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'The Chain' by Adrian McKinty

Published September 12, 2019 Posted by

chain mckintyYou are now part of The Chain.

Adrian McKinty, originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, now a New Yorker, is an award-winning crime novelist who has written a stunning work of twisted psychology, domination, and contest of wills. The plan in The Chain seems foolproof, insidious as it is. A child is kidnapped, the parent gets a phone call, and a ransom demand is made. The parent is told to select another child and kidnap the target in order to get his or her child returned. A two-step process. The horrifying aspect of the demand is that the parent gets 24 hours to pay the ransom and kidnap the next child. No such thing as planning, considering, discussing, contemplating, rationalizing, justifying.  The Chain makes an action demand, and the demand for fast action and tangible results. Or the kidnapped child is no more. The Chain has no tolerance for mistakes, for police involvement, for extensions of time to pay the ransom, for attempts to outwit. The entire process will be completed in 24 hours, or else.

McKinty's indistinguishable juxtaposition of absolute sociopathy and ridiculously humorous situations make this novel a winner. The parent of a kidnapped child, faced with the very-short-term task of selecting the next child, might use the social media to make such a selection:

Amelia is eight years old, four years younger than Toby. Rachel scrolls through the Facebook feed. Helen teaches kindergarten two mornings a week and the rest of the time she seems to spend updating her friends on Facebook about the family's doings. Mike Dunleavy apparently works long hours in Boston and most nights doesn't come home until late. Rachel knows this because Helen posts about what train Mike is coming back on and whether she is going to have the kids wait up for him or not.

The loved ones of victims also become idiots of The Chain as victims attempt to accomplish their newly assigned tasks without raising any suspicions. Rachel (mother) phones her mother (Judith) while concealing that Kylie (daughter) is kidnapped:

“I'm about to play bridge, what is it?”  Judith answers.

“Mom, listen, I just told Marty that Kylie is staying with you in New York.”

“What?  Why did you do that?”

“He came over today and it's one of his weekends but Kylie hates Marty's new girlfriend and didn't want to go stay with him, so I just sort of panicked and said that she was with you for a couple of days in New York.”

“But I'm in Florida.”

“Mom, I know you're in Florida, but if Marty calls, you have to tell him that you're in Brooklyn and Kylie's with you.”

“What are we doing in New York?”

“Kylie wants to see all the Egypt stuff at the Met.”

“She would like that.”

“And you guys got tickets to see Hamilton.”

“How did we manage to do that?”

“I don't know, maybe you know some old lady who isn't using her tickets.”

There's a long silence on the line while Judith thinks about it.  “This is quite the web of lies you've hooked me into, Rachel.  Now I'm going to have to pretend I've seen Hamilton if my ex-son-in-law calls.  What am I going to say?”

“Hell, Mom, can you not think on your feet?  Oh, and you've confiscated Kylie's phone,” Rachel snaps . . . .

“Why would I take my thirteen-year-old granddaughter's phone?”

“Because you're sick of her coming all the way to New York City and then just staring at a piece of glass six inches from her face the whole time she's there.”

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense,” Judith says.

Finally, the kidnapping parent, as a matter of emotional survival during the 24-hour period of expected activity as dictated by The Chain, must become emotionless, completely without compassion.  If a kidnapped child does not survive, the parent merely has that much less time to secure another child for The Chain:

If she dies, she and Pete will abandon the house and try again.  The cops will find a dead little girl chained to a pillar, covered in spit and vomit, surrounded by dolls and toys and games.  They will think it's one of the most evil crime scenes they have ever laid eyes on.

The novel is fast paced with many short, revealing chapters.  A perversion of the chain letter phenomena of yesterdecades, The Chain might provoke the reader to examine his or her own depth of character.  For example, how would the parent living a nondescript lifestyle handle the two-step, 24-hour demand from The Chain, realizing that defiance of The Chain could be mortal curtains for not only the child, but also the parent and many people involved with the parent? The Chain, initially seeming not only omniscient but also omnipresent, has a weakness that, once discovered, could be used to turn The Chain on itself. The victims race against time to end the tyranny.

This book is highly recommended, top-notch crime novel, and a sociopathic fantasy that will hopefully never attract a copycat criminal or be demonstrated at such a level of efficiency anywhere on the planet. 


Review by Dan Kane
Dan Kane lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, among peaceful peoples. He has worn many hats in publishing, from freelance line editor to literary agent to critic—somewhat of a jack of all trades, master of none. He reviewed for Prometheus Books, western New York state, from 2005 to 2015, and began reviewing for Hachette Book Group, New York, this year.  He finds reading and reviewing a revitalizing balance to a busy day job or volunteer commitment.

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