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The Chain

By Adrian McKinty, A thriller with a diabolical premise

Brief Summary
Detailed Summary
Read it or Skip It?

The Chain by Adrian McKinty has a cover that looks like something a 14-year-old boy designed with clipart, but a very intriguing premise.

The backstory behind The Chain’s development is pretty interesting as well. McKinty, after struggling financially and getting evicted (he recalls “all our stuff being dumped on the sidewalk in front of our house. And my little girls looking up at me and going, ‘is everything going to be alright?’ And me thinking, ‘I don’t know.'”), had decided to give up writing.

He was working as a bartender and Uber driver when another writer read about McKinty’s struggles on his blog. The writer referred his own agent to McKinty, and finally McKinty found his first financial success in The Chain. Pretty inspiring, right?

Plot Summary

For the Detailed Plot Summary, click here or scroll all the way down.

In The Chain, a young girl is abducted on the way to school. Soon, her mother Rachel is contacted by a nefarious organization called The Chain. If she wants her daughter back, she needs to pay a ransom and kidnap someone else’s loved ones. For her daughter to live, Rachel needs to perpetuate and become a part of The Chain.

With this Mephistophelian plot in place, Rachel will have to find a way to get her daughter back.

Book Review: The Good Stuff

And as soon as I understood what the book was really about, I felt grateful that McKinty was using his skill for coming up with diabolical schemes to publish fiction instead of turning to crime. As far as I know, anyway.

Clearly, the premise is one of the strongest aspects of this book. It’s instantly gripping, and it kicks off rights away without much fanfare, which was all hunky-dory for me.

This book kept my attention pretty consistently throughout. The plot moves ever forward at a pretty consistent pace. There are twists, turns and surprises in the action, though mostly pretty standard action-thriller-type stuff. In all, it’s a page-turner, and if you like those types of novels, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in what The Chain has to offer.

I also appreciated that The Chain doesn’t take itself entirely seriously. While it’s not trying to be a comedy or anything, it occasionally throws in some narration that indicates that, yes, he knows it’s a little ridiculous. When Rachel gets her instructions, she looks down at “her hastily scrawled, extremely incriminating checklist.” And and one point Rachel makes a decision because she “doesn’t have time for a Norman Bates–style car-sinking scene.”

Things like that are probably what got me through the rougher bits of the book.

Book Review: Some Criticisms

There’s a number of parts where The Chain gets a little too bogged down in logistics. While I appreciated the research, it meant that more mundane aspects of the logistical details ended up taking precedence over things like atmosphere or suspense.

Moreover, once the plot gets into motion, The Chain started coming off as a little ridiculous, which made the book less suspenseful. There’s a cheesy quality to its supposedly menacing messages.

The Chain is supposed to be ominous and diabolical, but it nags too much, micromanages and acts too illogical to seem scary. Every 15 minutes in this book someone from The Chain calls or crops up to nag Rachel to keep going, reminds her yet again that she needs their approval over everything, bugs her about some stuff and once even tries to impede her progress for no good reason.

It reminded me less of a powerful and lethal network and more of a bunch of nosey-slash-annoying busybodies with nothing better to do with their day.

Beyond that, I’d say the writing is fine, but occassionally inartful. This book is all plot and the words are mostly there to move things along. Pretty standard for a thriller though, so not a reason to skip this book.

The Chain by Adrian McKinty Movie Adaptation

There’s a movie deal in the works for the Chain. For all the details, see Everything We Know about The Chain Movie.

Read It Or Skip It?

I think for a quick thriller to read on an airplane or in a waiting room, this book is more than serviceable. It’s got an intriguing premise and keeps things moving.

This book reminded me a little of my thoughts on The Silent Patient, which is another bestseller right now with a good premise, okay-ish execution and big movie deal bolstering it. There’s definitely an interesting idea and the plot has some sturdy bones, though parts of the actual execution leaves something to be desired.

Is it great literature? Of course not. But it delivers on its promise of an eventful and exciting plot. In the right hands, I could see the movie being a fun ride. If you like thrillers, this one deserves a read. If you don’t, wait for the movie!

Either way, considering McKinty’s past and how before this book he’d been pounding the pavement with his writing for years and given it up, I hope a lot of people can find inspiration in his story. You can’t help but to be happy for the guy.

What do you think? Will you be reading The Chain? See The Chain on Amazon.

Detailed Book Summary (Spoilers)

Part One: All The Lost Girls

Chapters 1 - 4

Kylie is a 13-year-old girl living on Plum Island. On Thursday morning, a man with a gun that's wearing a ski mask comes up and abducts her, telling her to get into a car. Kylie drops her phone and does so. A woman is driving. The car is stolen, and they get pulled over for speeding. When the cop realizes something is amiss, they shoot the cop.

Rachel, Kylie's mother, has an appointment with an oncologist to get her results, but she's running late. As she sits in traffic, she gets a phone call informing her about The Chain. It tells her to pull over. Five minutes later, a woman calls, saying that Kylie has been kidnapped. The woman informs her that she needs to pay close attention and write down the rules and follow them. If she doesn't, both Kylie and the anonymous woman's boy will die. If Rachel calls the police, she'll kill Kylie and abduct someone else.

She tells her: buy a burner phone, download Tor (to access the dark web which is where illegal transactions occur online), buy and transfer $25,000 worth of Bitcoin via Tor to an account. That's the easy part. Then, get a gun, select a target and kidnap someone they love and then Kylie will be released. She tells her to choose someone who won't break the rules.

Rachel skips her oncologist appointment and heads to the bank to get a loan.

Chapters 5 - 9

The man and woman drive a little bit and take Kylie blindfolded into a basement. There's a mattress, sleeping bag, bucket, toilet paper, and some water. Plus a box of books. Kylie is handcuffed to nine feet of chain. The man tells her that they're in the woods, so no one can hear her. But if she starts screaming, he'll have to gag her and handcuff her hands behind her back.

At home, Rachel tracks down her ex-husband, Marty, who's out of town. But before she can call him, she gets a call from an Unknown Caller with a distorted voice (presumably someone from The Chain), advising her not to. It says that she needs permission to do something like that, and they may let her later if it seems she needs help, but for now, no. It tells her to get off the floor and get moving, and Rachel realizes she's being watched.

As she heads out of the house, a man approaches her. He tells her he's been off The Chain for a year, and his loved ones are safe, but she needs to follow the rules. He punches her in the stomach. Rachel goes to apply for a loan but is rejected at first.

Then she marches back in and offers to pay a very high interest rate for a short term loan, which gets her the money. She buys the Bitcoin and transfers the money.

Somewhere else, an anonymous person reviews the most recent links on the The Chain. Hank Callaghan, a dentist. Heather Porter, a college administrator. And then Rachel Klein.

Chapters 10 - 15

Rachel drives to New Hampshire where gun laws are more lax. She buys a shotgun. She then buys rope, chains, a padlock, and two rolls of duct tape. Plus, she gets some burner phones.

In the basement, Kylie tries to use the aluminum from the toothpaste roll to use to pick her handcuffs.

Back at home, a neighbor (Dr. Havercamp) who found Kylie's phone on the ground comes by to return it. Rachel also needs to figure out a place to keep whomever she abducts. Rachel lives near the beach, and there are a bunch of large homes at the far side of the basin near her. She realizes she could try using someone's home if they're not a year-long resident. She identifies one belonging to the Appenzellers and breaks in.

Rachel then starts identifying potential targets.

Marty calls asking why she had been trying to reach him before. Rachel notes that she might need help (he thinks it's a problem with the roof and also he's out of town), and Marty suggests contacting his older brother Pete.

Chapters 16 - 21

Pete is a former Marine. He's out hunting when they try to contact him but his phone's out of battery.

Rachel has identified a target, Wendy and her son Denny. But she goes to watch them and finds out she's seeing a cop, so Wendy and Denny are crossed off the list. She switches her focus to Helen and her son Toby. The Chain calls and tells her they need to vet her choices, which she agrees to. She asks if she can get help from Pete. Afterwards, Rachel runs into Kylie's friend Stuart ("Stu") who expresses concern over Kylie.

Pete (who is a heroin addict) finally calls Rachel. She tells him about The Chain and shows him her research and preparations.

Chapters 22 - 29

In the basement in the woods, there's an cast-iron oven in the corner. Kylie manages to move it a little, but it's noisy. She finds a wrench underneath.

The person running The Chain feels that Rachel doesn't seem scared enough, so she ups the ante. She wants another $25,000, and she wants Rachel to kidnap someone immediately.

Pete helps out with the money. They go to kidnap Tobey from his archery class, but there was a change in plans and Tobey wasn't there. Instead they happen upon Amelia, his little sister. They kidnap Amelia instead. She has a peanut allergy though, so they need to buy an Epipen. Rachel gets a call from the woman who has Kylie, telling her she got her son back, so Rachel just needs to see this through.

Chapters 30 - 35

When the man comes down to check on Kylie, she clubs him with a wrench and takes his gun. She threatens to shoot him, but it turns out the gun is filled with blanks. He hits her to show her he's serious.

Pete accidentally gives Amelia cereal with traces of nuts and it triggers an allergic reaction. He runs out to get an Epipen. While he's gone, an older woman nearby notices something and calls the police. Rachel flirts with him to get him to go away. Pete makes it back in time, but Rachel realizes she would have let Amelia die rather than risk Kylie.

The Dunleaveys get things together quickly and a little more than 24 hours later, they've kidnapped a different child. Rachel gets the call saying that Kylie will be released within the hour.

Rachel picks up Kylie, and The Chain calls to remind her she needs to keep Amelia until the Dunleavy's target has kidnapped someone. The Chain puts $10,000 back in her account, but says that it'll be used to incriminate her if she ever tries to rat them out to the police.

Chapters 36 - 42

The Dunleavy's target was Seamus Hogg, and it turns out that he is a problem. He has contacted his uncle, a retired U.S. marshal. The Chain contacts Rachel and tell her she needs to get the Dunleavy's and Hoggs in order or kill Amelia.

Rachel and Pete call the Dunleavys but that don't pick up. They decide to go to Portland. Rachel reluctantly has Kylie watch Amelia. She is appalled, but does it anyway.

In Portand, they grab Mike Dunleavy and tell them they are all going to visit the Hoggs. Helen Dunleavy will watch the child. They sort the Hoggs out together. The Hoggs kidnap someone else. Rachel releases Amelia.

Relieved that the ordeal is over, Rachel and Pete sleep with each other, though Rachel says that Pete needs to stop using heroin if he wants to stay with her.

Part Two: The Monster in the Labyrinth

Chapters 43 - 48

The book starts including some flashbacks. There's a hippie commune in Crete, New York where two masked men go in and gun down a bunch of people. They are looking for a woman named Alicia and want to know where the kids are. They find her, and she recognizes the man as Tom. Tom kills Alice and then leaves with their kids, Moonbeam and Mushroom. Moonbeam is renamed to Oliver, and Mushroom is now Margaret. They are twins, and they know their father murdered their mother.

Tom remarries to a very normal woman, Cheryl, and has another child, Anthony. Tom works for the Boston Police Department but is abusive towards Oliver and Margaret. They are standoffish and don't get along with the other kids. A girl, Jennifer, bullies Margaret and makes her cry. When Jennifer's bunny runs away, Margaret gets the idea to secretly leave her notes telling her to do embarrassing things or else the bunny will die. Margaret tops it off by telling Jennifer to stand naked outside for ten seconds, and they snap a picture to use later.

Back in present day, Rachel still has nightmares. She finally gets her blood test results from her doctor, has surgery and needs to have one round of chemo for the next few months. But she's doing well compared to Kylie. Kylie wets her bed every night, and she is clearly not handling things well. Knowing that she can't just let Kylie suffer, Rachel anonymously starts a blog, going by the screen name "Ariadne", asking for anonymous tips about The Chain.

Chapters 49 - 60

On Rachel's blog, someone comments to delete the blog immediately, but to check the Boston Globe's classifies. She sees an ad for Chains, along with a phone number. She calls the number, and the person tells her to go to the airport and meet inside departures (to ensure she's unarmed). Pete goes too. Eventually they meet Erik Lonnrott, a MIT professor and mathematician. His daughter was kept in the dark for four days, later tried to kill herself, and now lives in a psychiatric hospital.

Erik thinks that The Chain started around 2013. Rachel tells him she thinks it's a young woman and that it is based in Boston (based on a slang term that the person understood). Erik thinks he has a way to trace the communication app that The Chain uses (Wickr) as well as the burner telephones. He wants Rachel to provoke them so he can trace them. Rachel says she'll think about it, and soon agrees.

Rachel soon meets Marty's (her ex-husband, Pete's brother) new girlfriend, Ginger, who is an FBI agent. Marty agrees to take Kylie for a weekend, but Rachel doesn't say why. Stuart, Kylie's friend, wants to join Kylie as well.

In more flashbacks, we find out that Tom, Cheryl and even Anthony are all very mean to Margaret and Oliver. Margaret kills Anthony by pushing him off the side of a cruise ship they're on. Six months later, they murder Cheryl by poisoning her drink and inducing cardiac arrest.

Chapters 61 - 64

More flashbacks. After Cheryl dies, Tom drinks more and comes home less often. He comes home on the one-year anniversary of Cheryl's death and beats Margaret. The school nurse sends her to the hospital the next day. A few months later, while he's passed out drunk, Margaret fakes his suicide by putting his revolver in his mouth and writing a fake note. Margaret and Oliver get sent to live with their grandfather, Daniel. He renames Oliver to Olly and Margaret to Ginger.

Back in present day, in Cambridge, a woman breaks into Erik's house. He's identified that there's likely two people behind the Chain. It's Boston-based, not organized crime but there's some type of law enforcement background. The woman shoots Erik. The next day, Rachel and Pete wait for Erik to make contact, but find out on the news that he's dead. Rachel remembers that he had written her name in his notebook.

Rachel knows that The Chain will be out to get her. She calls Marty to make sure Kylie is safe. He says they are going to visit Ginger's grandfather, and Ginger's brother will be there. She gets into the app that Erik created to track down The Chain. As Erik had warned them, the Wickr tracer doesn't work as well, but the phone trace works. The person threatens to kill Rachel if she ever contacts them again, but the GPS locator works and they have a location.

The GPS points them to Choate Island. They see a big house.

Chapters 65 - 66

More background/flashbacks. Ginger ends up joining the police while Olly learns to code. She learns about the Jalisco cartel and ends up on a Jalisco task force. She learns about their method of kidnapping family members to get people to pay their debts. She remembers a Babysitter's Club book she read about chain letters. She and Olly talk about how they can use these things to their advantage. The Chain is born in 2013 in Boston. After a few initial issues, it's soon a well-oiled machine, and they are right.

In present day, Olly has a few areas of concern when it comes to Ginger. She has used it to settle some personal scores, which he disapproves of. Olly sees in Erik's notebook a word that is pronounced "Rachel" in Hebrew and remembers that Ginger's new boyfriend has an ex-wife named Rachel.

Outside of the big house, Rachel and Pete check the GPS they put on Kylie and realize she's been at the mall for 9 hours. They figure she must have bought new shoes and left the old ones at the mall. Rachel heads for the house. Pete, outside, soon finds himself surrounded by people with guns who know Daniel (Ginger's grandfather) and plan on taking Pete to him.

Chapters 67 - 69

Ginger, Marty, Kylie and Stuart (Kylie's friend) are at the house. Ginger is pleased with herself. She found out about Marty because of Rachel and decided she liked him. She had the Chain get rid of Tammy (by telling her to dump him). Olly warns Ginger that Rachel made contact with Erik, and Ginger realizes they have a problem. When Marty tells Ginger that he thinks he saw Rachel outside the house, she points a gun at him.

Rachel sneaks up on the guard that has Pete with a gun and disarms him, but then Olly shows up with a gun. Soon, the situation is that Rachel, Pete, Olly, Ginger are all outside with guns. Daniel ("Red", the grandfather) shows up with an automatic gun, too. Pete raises his weapon and blows out the light.

Chapters 70 - 75

In the darkness, everyone starts shooting. Rachel and Pete make it to the garage without getting shot. They search the house, but there's no sign of Kylie. She hears her from off in the distance, and sees some old farm buildings nearby and footprints in the snow. Amidst shooting and darkness, Rachel and Pete make their way to the old building -- a slaughterhouse -- and up to the second floor where Kylie and Stuart are being held. But Ginger is there with them, with a gun.

Olly shoots Pete. Then, he lies to Rachel and says he'll let them go if she puts down her gun. He tells Ginger to shoot them.

However, after her basement experience, Kylie learned how to get out of handcuffs. As Ginger and Ollie talk, Kylie shoots Ollie in the head. Ginger starts shooting wildly, and Kylie, Stuart and Rachel hide behind a trough. Ginger runs out of ammo, and Rachel charges at her. Ginger gets the upper hand and chokes Rachel. Rachel feels a piece of glass on the floor at plunges it into Ginger's throat. She's dead.

Kylie dials 911. Marty gets to the slaughterhouse to find Pete injured but not dead. However, a fire is breaking out, and they all need to get out of there. Meanwhile, Daniel/Red is injured but has trudged over with a grenade launcher.

Pete sees Daniel come up behind them. Just as Daniel fires, Pete lifts his gun and fires as well. Daniel gets his shot off first, but left his safety on. Pete's shot lands straight in his chest.

Chapter 76 (The End)

After the smoke clears, Pete and Rachel are charged with felony kidnapping, false imprisonment, and child endangerment. However, the Dunleavys come forward and claim that Amelia participated with their approval in order to help break The Chain. Once the story comes to light, the public is overwhelmingly on Rachel and Pete's side and the police know without the Dunleavy's cooperation, winning at trial would be difficult regardless.

Rachel and Pete are released from police custody. Eventually, Rachel is largely forgotten and she moves on with her life. Kylie is doing well. Rachel and Pete are still together. The book ends with Rachel taking a pregnancy test and waiting for the results.

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See The Chain on Amazon.

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