I tell myself to stop reading thrillers, because I find them all the same, but I keep hoping to come across one that I find brilliant.
When I heard about The Chain, I thought this one might be different. Adrian McKinty, author of the Michael Forsythe trilogy and the Sean Duffy series of crime novels, goes for the throat with this thriller. The premise of The Chain, inspired by those old chain letters that promised horrible things if you didn’t keep the chain going, is both compelling and absurd: your child gets abducted and the only way to have her safely returned is to pay ransom as well as abduct another child, whose parent will then have to pay and abduct, thus keeping the chain going.
The novel features characters that thriller readers expect. The mother (Rachel) is a divorced, underemployed cancer survivor. Her sidekick is an ex-Marine with a drug problem. The abducted daughter is a smart and resourceful young teen.
The plot: Get daughter back, then destroy the villains.
Certainly the pace of the storytelling is frenetic and I kept turning the pages. It’s written in present tense. Choppy sentences like this. Short chapters. Shifting points of view. There’s the repeatedly pounded variations on the novel’s central moral quandary: I can’t abduct another child, it’s so horrific and wrong, but it’s the only way to get my child back, so I can do it. This line: “Rachel feels mortified and angry. But she can’t indulge these feelings very long. The clock is ticking.”
That line epitomizes the quality of the writing. I understand that thrillers are not literary novels, but the writing style pained me at times. There were at least a half-dozen instances of one character or another stating that “the coast was clear.” There was this phrase: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The blaring signal as the novel enters its last act: “Something about this place screams denouement.” A lot of the dialog was flat and informational.
And yet, the novel delivers on its promise, as good thrillers do, and most readers will be more than satisfied. I read that Adrian McKinty, despite having achieved critical success and winning an Edgar award, was financially struggling and wrote this book in an attempt to hit a home run. He may have done it. But I’m not a big fan.
Three stars out of five.