The Chain by Adrian McKinty

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Most of us – at some time in our lives – would have received what was known as a ‘chain letter’.  They were letters which, if you did not follow the instructions in the letter, threatened to cause some harm – often just described as ‘bad luck’ or ‘misfortune’.  Some chain letters though demanded money.

The Chain, Adrian McKinty’s most recent book, has its genesis in a chain letter that he received as a child in Ireland.  Fortunately, his teacher – a nun – told him and the other children who had received one to bring their letters to school.  The letters were then put in the fire and the children collectively breathed a sigh of relief and got back to being children.  The experience stayed with the author and led eventually to this gripping and thrilling story of what parents are capable of doing to protect their children.

Even though Adrian McKinty is proudly Irish, the novel is set in the United States – and in New Hampshire in particular.

Rachel is a single mother with a twelve-year-old daughter Kylie.  As on every other school-day morning, Rachel drops Kylie at the bus stop and continues on.  This one day, shortly after dropping Kylie, Rachel receives a phone call to say that Kylie has been kidnapped and, unless Rachel follows strict and comprehensive instructions, Kylie will be killed.  As always in these sorts of matters, no police or any kind of law-enforcement agency is to be contacted at any time.

Within the first few pages of The Chain, the author has created a nightmare for the reader.  Tapping into every parent’s worst fears, Adrian McKinty succinctly and cleverly engages the reader’s attention and does not let it go for 351 pages.

The Chain is the story of how Rachel – with help from her brother-in-law Pete – responds to the chain’s demands.  To say anymore would be a spoiler of the first degree.

Rachel asks the logical question – why me? and why Kylie?  The answers to those questions become apparent as Rachel struggles to meet the demands of the chain.

Rachel finds that she has hidden reserves of fortitude and courage – and that she is prepared to kill if it means that Kylie will be rescued.  As a lecturer in philosophy, her knowledge makes her very aware of the wrongness of what she is doing as in the following example –

And you know in your heart that you would have let Amelia die.  The intent was there and that’s what counts in moral philosophy, in law and in life. [163]

This knowledge frightens her but sometimes – when it counts the most – she is glad of it.  As she says of herself at one stage –

You’re in the cage plummeting to hell.  And it’s going to get worse.  It always gets worse.  First comes the cancer, then the divorce, then your daughter gets kidnapped, then you become the monster. [163]

Being a retired Marine, Pete is familiar with death and dying and, in the fight to save Kylie, he causes one and almost suffers the other.

There are one or two coincidences which may stretch the reader’s credulity a little.  Pete is not only a retired Marine but is also an expert in cyber-security and, by extension, in computers and social media.  Along the way, Rachel meets a college professor [another victim of the chain] who is a mathematician and who is developing a system to track the location of ‘burner’ mobile phones.  Burner phones play a large part in the novel and Rachel has an endless supply of them.  So, both Pete’s and the professor’s expertise assist Rachel very significantly in her search for Kylie.

Fortunately, there are some lighter moments to allow the reader to catch breath.  Seamlessly woven into the plot is Rachel’s backstory.  It never dominates but provides depth and offers an emotional connection to Rachel and Kylie.  Similarly, there is an emerging romance.  In crime novels, close proximity between the protagonists – especially when in stressful situations – will always lead to romance and The Chain is no exception.

As an aficionado of crime novels – and English crime novels in particular – I would not have thought that an Irish writer could create such a story.  While Irish writers generally are excellent storytellers, crime is not usually their area of interest.  However, I am pleased to be shown to be incorrect.  What’s of more interest is that Adrian McKinty’s earlier novels – of which there are ten – have won a string of awards.  Included in the awards are two Ned Kelly Awards [2014 and 2017] and the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger [2016].

In addition to his novels, Adrian McKinty writes reviews for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Irish Times and The Guardian.  Although born and raised in Belfast, he now lives in New York City with his family.

Adrian McKinty has written a crime novel in The Chain which will stand alongside some of the best.  It is well worth reading for its tension, imaginative storyline and engaging characters.

The Chain

[2019]

by Adrian McKinty

Hachette Australia

ISBN 978 0 7336 4251 7

352pp; $32.99

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