The Chain, Adrian McKinty
Consider for a moment what you would do. You've dropped your child off at the bus stop on their way to school, and you're heading towards a normal day. You've had some health challenges yourself recently, but you're getting your life back together. You're going back to work. Your life is taking a turn for the better. Until you answer the phone and a panicked voice tells you, they have kidnapped your child, and then they explain the nightmare scenario that you need to get onto straight away if you ever want to see your child again. It's a choreographed scenario, it's stylised, it feels like they've done this before, but it's not until you're well into the steps to get your child back that you realise it has most definitely been done before. There are people out there who have kidnapped other children to get their own child back, and some of them are nearby. You're being watched. You can't go to the cops, you can't turn to your ex for help. You've got no money, you're not a kidnapper for goodness sake, and you're tied to a chain that's got you locked into it for life.
If you've been living under a rock, or outside the crime fiction chat bubble, you may not be aware that THE CHAIN has been talked up in every corner, by every reader, and in just about every circle - as the film rights were sold to Paramount for a seven-figure sum. Needless to say, the buzz has been pretty deafening. Somewhere in the middle of that, it's worth nothing a quote from McKinty (taken from a story by the Guardian):
“On the surface I was winning all these awards, getting great reviews and getting praised. On the other hand it was completely fake. I wasn’t providing any income for the family. They were selling two or three thousand copies a year. You can’t really live on that. So my poor wife was working full-time and I was living this life of the artist.”
He's talking about a time not so long ago, when at the seeming height of his popularity in Australia in particular, McKinty was thinking about giving up writing. It took an intervention from agent Shane Salerno, spurred on by fellow crime writer Don Winslow to enable McKinty to keep writing, and the thought that his incredible storytelling skill could have been lost to us all fills me with sadness and my shopping cart with an order for copies of his entire back catalogue.
Let's hope this time round the great reviews, the positive buzz, the acclaim are actually going to translate into something ongoing because behind this novel is one of the all time great authors. Right from his debut novel DEAD I MAY WELL BE, McKinty has telegraphed a sublime story telling skill that's brutal yet nuanced, detailed yet open to interpretation, populated by some outstanding characters.
According to the Author Notes with the book, the idea behind THE CHAIN came to McKinty in Mexico City in 2012, when he heard about the concept of exchange kidnapping, when a family member offers themselves as a replacement hostage for a more vulnerable kidnap victim. Tying that idea to poisonous chain letters doing the rounds in the 1970's McKinty has come up with an unusual idea - a chain of kidnappings where the parents of a victim not only have to pay for their child's return, but must in turn kidnap another child to continue the "chain". Past participants in this chain of events are then often called upon to convince current participants to co-operate. People are closely tracked, their actions noted, commented on, they are threatened, and everyone, regardless of background, beliefs or circumstances, once they are on the chain, can't get off.
THE CHAIN never becomes bogged down in the technical details of how this surveillance is undertaken, nor does it become overly gory or the children under explicit threat (if you're a reader who is turned off by explicit violence towards children then you're okay to proceed with this novel), but it does have pace in spades, it has panic, it makes no bones about the threat that the parents feel, nor the discomfort occasioned by their need to pass on the terror. And the way that it eventually resolves itself is a good, old-fashioned opportunity to do some serious cheering for a brave person. The perpetrators in this story are there, they are explored a little bit, but to be honest by the end of it all, it's not about them, or their chain, or the past but all about the future, and just how far you would go if somebody you loved was threatened and just how narky people can get when the threat looks like it might never go away.
Please buy THE CHAIN (I got a review copy, so I bought copies as presents and a whole lot of people can probably guess what they are getting for Christmas now). While you're at it, buy all of Adrian McKinty's books as I've just done. There isn't a dud in the bunch, and you will not regret it.
You just dropped off your child at the bus stop.
A panicked stranger calls your phone.
Your child has been kidnapped.
The stranger then explains that their child has also been kidnapped, by a completely different stranger.
The only way to get your child back is to kidnap another child - within 24 hours.
Your child will be released only when the next victim's parents kidnap yet another child.
And most importantly, the stranger explains, if you don't kidnap a child, or if the next parents don't kidnap a child, your child will be murdered.
You are now part of The Chain.