Trying to get a sense of what I'll one day be in store for, I more and more ask my parent-friends "How do you do it?"
"It," of course, is survive. Parenthood can seem like the wildest willful punishment, signing up for the incessant bombardment of your mind and body, a devastating investment in a project that will maybe yield little more than a phone call on or around your birthday. You hand over your whole life. How do you do that? How do you survive that?
The answer is always the same. "You just do it. You have no choice."
It's this sort of mindless devotion that the titular Chain in Adrian McKinty's new novel relies on. Doing the unthinkable is easy when you don't have to think about it. In theory, a parent would reliably do anything to keep their child out of danger, even if it means putting someone else's child in danger.
The logic of The Chain is as simple as it is cruel: Upon finding out that your own child has been taken, you're tasked with taking someone else's child. Once you have, the person with your child will have their own returned to them. And once the parents of the child you've kidnapped have responded in kind, you get your child back. If anyone goes to the authorities or compromises the solidity of the chain in any way, the unthinkable truly happens.
Rachel Klein receives the call en route to follow up with her oncologist. Her daughter Kylie has been taken. She needs to find a child to take and $15, 000 she doesn't have as a sort of ransom. Or else. Everything in Rachel's life drops and she drops everything. McKinty, author of the underrated Troubles-set Sean Duffy series, gets things going fast and doesn't let up. Energized by the sort of car-lifting strength reported by old wives, Rachel becomes criminalized and cunning, willing to do anything and then doing everything she can in order to get Kylie back.
Adrenaline and instinct are the propellants of The Chain and McKinty, whose convivial, thoughtful style made the Troubles series so engaging, gets the hell out of the way here. There's no time to waste and McKinty's skint prose knows it, taking Elmore Leonard's advice of leaving out writing that the reader will skip. There's not a lot of time for Rachel to sleep, and there won't be for the reader either. Though sleep is something that both parents and thriller fans have learned long ago to go without.