Adrian McKinty’s new novel is an almost perfect feat of thriller engineering, powered by a premise guaranteed to scare any parent witless: our heroine, Rachel, gets a call from a woman who says she’s kidnapped Rachel’s only child, Kylie. If Rachel doesn’t pay a ransom, the caller will kill the girl. Why? The crazed caller’s own son is being held by another family, and his release is dependent on the payment of Kylie’s ransom—and so on and so on down the line. This is the diabolical operating strategy of the entity known as “the Chain.”
McKinty, an Irish writer with a modestly successful Northern Ireland–based detective series, has ventured—quite convincingly—to the northeastern U.S. Rachel seems at first to be an odd choice for the kidnappers, each of whom trolls for the next, most promising link in the chain via social media. (Parents may want to go on a Facebook starvation diet after reading this book.) She’s divorced, a native New Yorker without much money who’s about to begin a job teaching philosophy at a community college, and, most crucially, is a near survivor of breast cancer whose prognosis is still iffy. Once Kylie is taken, Rachel teams up with her former brother-in-law, Pete, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who has the skills to handle the unthinkable situation. Unbeknownst to Rachel, Pete also has a heroin habit, which will eventually require her to step up in ways she couldn’t have predicted.