Book review: The Chain by Adrian McKinty
The Chain - Adrian McKinty
You're likely to have a few questions and doubts about how an extreme form of chain-letter is sustainable in The Chain, but you'll likely be inclined to put off the whys and hows for a while and trust that Adrian McKinty will get you there, because like Rachel in the book, all you are really going to care about is getting to the end of the current tense situation without it all ending badly. Well, it's definitely going to end badly, it's just a matter of how badly and for whom.
The Chain has all the characteristics of the chain letter mixed with a pyramid scheme. Rachel's dilemma is that her daughter Kylie has been kidnapped by someone whose own child has been kidnapped. To have Kylie released, Rachel not only has to pay a ransom, she has to kidnap another child as well. And so on. It's a devious idea since whoever is behind the Chain gets the money and takes none of the risks of doing the kidnapping.
Evidently there are considerable risks, since it means that ordinary people have to learn very quickly how to become criminal masterminds. If they don't get to grips with the situation fast, make a mistake or expose the working of the Chain, their child is going to be killed. Rachel - a philosophy teacher - very quickly gains the necessary skills, doing whatever it takes to raise a $25,000 ransom and at the same time scoping the social media for the next potential victim. She then has to set about the whole business of buying disposable burner phones, accessing the dark web, purchasing and transferring bitcoins, getting tooled up with a gun and preparing a locked room to hold a child captive. The thing is can she really kidnap another parent's child just to save her own?
Well, Adrian McKinty poses an interesting ethical dilemma there already in The Chain - not to mention putting the fear of god into reader parents who might already have concerns about the dangers of putting your life up on social media - but the answer to that is by no means a philosophical or theoretical one. The Chain's continued secretive existence and the assured success of its continuation is predicated upon parents being willing to do whatever is necessary to save their child, reassured to some extent that if everyone does their part, it will work out fine in the end. The problem with any chain-letter scheme of course is that it relies on their never being an end...
But aside from the ethical question, there must be some danger of a panicked parent making mistakes, and it only takes one mistake for the Chain and its secret succession of sequential kidnappings to be exposed. How could it possibly have gone on so long? Well, due diligence is expected on the part of the choosing of potential victims, making sure that they are the kind of person to do as they are told and are capable of doing it. Still, mistakes and mishaps are all but inevitable, and you can be sure that things don't go smoothly for Rachel...
All of which makes The Chain incredibly intense in how it throws the reader right into the immediacy of the dilemma, where there is no time to ask questions or have doubts; The Chain has you in its grasp from the get-go. The ethical questions admittedly don't get much of a look-in, McKinty focussing on the mechanics of the escalating terror and the hidden implications, but he does that brilliantly, gradually bringing in the background behind the origins of The Chain, which is no less compelling and which guarantees an explosive conclusion that is definitely going to end very badly indeed for someone.