Adrian McKinty’s explosively brilliant The Chain opens as a 13-year-old girl, Kylie, is kidnapped from a bus stop as she checks the likes on her Instagram feed. A policeman is shot dead by the kidnappers a couple of pages later, but it’s quickly clear this is not your typical kidnapping crime... McKinty’s brilliance lies in exploring just how far a parent will go to rescue their child. These are people committing dreadful crimes – crimes they are horrified by – but they carry them out nonetheless. Terribly plausible.
Something much better than expected. Because the chain — always uppercased as The Chain, as if it had magic powers — isn’t as silly or one-note as it initially sounds. And because McKinty hangs on to his wit and literacy even under duress. Once he sets up the idea that each set of parents with a kidnapped child must kidnap some other, random young victim or know that The Whatever will kill their kid, find them where they live, inflict unspeakable misery and never go away, his book becomes much more reasonable...Beneath its surface of high-speed thrills, “The Chain” is clearly the work of the philosophical thinker McKinty has always been. He has Rachel teach existentialism and even tosses a copy of Sarah Bakewell’s superb 2016 book “At the Existentialist Café” into the mix. He would like you to realize that what you’re reading is existentialism in action, with Rachel defining herself moment by moment with each choice she makes. Read it that way and it’s a thriller on more levels than one.
The concept is brilliant: a shadowy criminal consortium runs a chain kidnapping operation. The way it works is simple: your child is kidnapped, and to get them released you must pay a ransom and then kidnap someone else’s child, thus perpetuating the chain. It’s a hideous scenario, and utterly implausible, but then hideous, implausible scenarios seem to be the order of the day, in politics as well as fiction, so McKinty is channelling the zeitgeist...The Chain may have some resonance with the gloomy state of world affairs and the breakdown of civilised norms, but it is essentially light entertainment, and as such it succeeds splendidly. No surprise, then, to hear the film rights have just been sold to Paramount. It has all the elements of an absolute blockbuster.