Published by Mulholland Books on July 9, 2019
You just dropped off your child at the bus stop. A panicked stranger calls your phone. Your child has been kidnapped, and the stranger 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.
I don’t know how on God’s green earth I managed to not hear about The Chain until October when it came out in July. It checks all of my “favorite thriller” boxes – domestic thriller, tense family situation, kids, some sort of kidnapping or hostage situation. But it somehow managed to sneak right past me out into the mainstream, and it wasn’t until I picked it up off the “new releases” shelf at my local Target that I saw read the description and knew I needed it immediately. Luckily someone in a buy/sell/trade group I am in sold it to me for $12 shipped, and as soon as I finished it I took it to my local 2nd & Charles and deposited it in the “free” bin outside. Because more people deserve to read this one.
How I’d Describe This Book to a Friend
Do you remember those email chain forwards we used to get back in the days of the AOL CD coming with your Sunday paper? The ones that would detail your untimely demise if you didn’t forward it to X people within Y hours? What McKinty has done here – the genius that he is – is combine these spam emails (which you knew weren’t real, but still felt slightly queasy about not forwarding anyway) with child kidnapping rings, and created this beast called The Chain.
Our protagonist is named Rachel, she is 35 years old, divorced, has breast cancer, and is not doing super great these days – but things are starting to look up! She will begin teaching Philosophy classes at the local community college in the Fall, and she has a great relationship with her 13 year old daughter Kylie. However one morning as Rachel is leaving for her doctor’s appointment, she receives a phone call that chills her to the bone: Kylie was kidnapped at the bus stop. And in order to get her daughter back, Rachel must kidnap a child herself.
You see, the people holding Kylie have their son being held by another parent. This ladder – this chain, if you will – stretches back for ages, and will continue to ostensibly stretch forward forever too. These parents have been instructed to kill the child under their care if anything goes south, and you know that they will. No matter how much you don’t want to hurt another human, if it’s someone else’s child or your own, you’ll save your own. Every time.
The Chain is the chronicle of what happens to Rachel and Kylie – as Kylie plans to escape the basement she is held captive in, her mother frantically attempts to come up with the steps required of her by The Chain if she ever hopes to see Kylie again. This entails finding tens of thousands of dollars that she does not have and funneling them into an anonymous bitcoin account, as well as researching local families to find a child to kidnap. She has to not only successfully kidnap a child, but find somewhere quiet and secluded to keep them alive until she’s allowed to release them. This is not a low-stakes poker game, and one wrong step can result in disastrous consequences.
The Bottom Line
I am not a fast reader, but I inhaled the 300-odd pages of this book within about 36 hours. Once I started, I just couldn’t stop. Rachel is likable but not superhuman, and she makes mistakes the way any flawed person would. The chapters flip so that you see not only Rachel’s POV, but Kylie’s, and you root for both of these ladies to make it to the next day, to survive even longer.
Is this a perfect book? Definitely not, the actual Chain would never work practically in reality, and you have to suspend disbelief a large amount to really get into this one. But once you do, it won’t let you go. I gave it a 3 star rating just because I know I will forget the plot and characters fairly quickly – it’s still a bog standard thriller at the end of the day. But my time with it was enjoyable and I wouldn’t hesitate to say you should read it from your local library, or borrow it from a friend. Both because it’s a quick read that isn’t worth the price of a hardcover, and because borrowing it really keeps the “chain” metaphor alive, you feel me?
“Number one: you are not the first and you will certainly not be the last. Number two: remember, it’s not about the money—it’s about The Chain.”