December 7, 2023

Novel Lives

Book Publicity, Reviews, Author Interviews, and Discussion Posts by Susan Crosby

Old-School Chain Letters With A Dark and Disturbing Twist Starts The Chain, by Andrew McKinty, Off With A Bang But It Ends With A Whimper (Spoiler Free)

If anyone is paying any attention, I don’t think you know how much I’ve been dying to read The Chain by Andrew McKinty.  I am very picky about the adult books I choose to read and review on this site. When I pressed the request button on both Edelweiss and Netgalley, I was POSITIVE about the choice. The premise is spectacular and being endorsed by Stephen King is a clincher.
However, as positive as I was about requesting an ARC of The Chain, I was also POSITIVE I would no sooner be granted an ARC than the St. Louis Blues would win the Stanley Cup. Funny thing about  I sit the day of the  history making, Stanley Cup St. Louis Blues Stanley Cup Parade and reviewing The Chain. Who knew? I didn’t.
Remember those stupid chain letters from school… ok I’m old… but there were these chain letters that used to circle around and said unless you send this to X  amount of people, bad luck or sickness, or some kind of horrific event will befall you because this letter it has been around the world seven times and no one has ever dared break this chain.
Take that and up the ante by ten and throw in modern technology, the dangers of social media, kidnapped children, ransom money and spyware, and you have one hella class-a debacle. A gunshot from page one that grabs you by the jugular and doesn’t let go.
You don’t have to be a parent to be horrified or to put yourself in the main character, Rachel’s, place. You don’t have to have children to put yourself in her position and wonder what you would do if you found out your only child was suddenly kidnapped by strangers and the only way to get her back was to kidnap someone else’s child child, pay twenty-five thousand dollars in ransom and find a target to do the same.
Otherwise, they will kill your child and your family, and find someone else to do it. Because if they don’t? The person who kidnapped their child will kill him and so on and so on the chain goes. But do as they say and they will give you your daughter back and the chain just ticks along.
McKinty portrays Rachel’s fear, hesitation and ultimate ability to go through with what she has to do with absolute brilliance. Her fear is palpable and her guilt comes across like waves breaking on the shore. The looming fear of her battle against breast cancer and having to depend on her brother-in-law who has an addiction to heroin complicates matters at dangerous turns.
McKinty also weaves the very current and relevant dangers of social media into the inner workings of the chain. Its growth, success and the victim’s ability to keep the chain going rest solely on two things 1) fear-> buy-in and 2) social media. What makes this entire premise believable is that everyone knows someone who is just like the parents chosen as targets based on their open social media presence.
Minute-by-minute people jump from one platform to the other. I’m grabbing lunch with x person here, getting x drink here, going shopping here, haircut here, x child will was just accepted to x activity on x days from x time to x time on and I’m so proud!
It is completely feasible that someone could use this information to watch you, watch your child and figure out a time and place to snatch them. I never let people check me into places on FaceBook, I always thought it was a good way to get yourself stalked and killed. It isn’t paranoia. It is the truth.
By taking an all to real social structure, McKinty has taken something that could have been completely implausible and made it very realistic. If I was a parent I would definitely think twice about tracking my child via GPS, what I posted, who could see it, and the same about my child’s use of social media.
The middle of the book was interesting. See the how and why the Chain came to be? This was very well done indeed. I’m not going to go in-depth because I don’t want to spoil it. However, as inexcusable as the deed is, knowing the psychology behind the masterminds was extremely satisfying. Throughout the first half of the book, I found myself often asking- who are the puppet masters and why would they do this? Yes. Of course there is the money but it is obviously much more than the money. McKinty fulfills on a promise of answering these questions and he does it with a depth that almost – almost- gives you a sense of empathy for those in question.
So you must be wondering, what’s the problem? To be short? The ending. And that is one of two problems with the ending. It is rushed. It comes very quickly and then boom it is over. Although had it been dragged out, I probably wouldn’t be happy with that either because of the second issue with the ending.
The ending is predictable. There is one piece that I didn’t see coming but once that part is over? The rest pretty much ends as you would expect it to because it is how all these kind of books (see James Patterson, John Grisham etc… wow throw Stephen King into that mix and… what did I read as a teenager)? Anyhow, no one wants to see a predictable ending drawn out. Unfortunately this left me disappointed and I walked away with a bad taste in my mouth- unsatisfied and just shrugging my shoulders with a meh feeling. And I hate that feeling. The endings have to be big because they are the last impression in a stand-alone novel. With such an amazing story being told, it deserved a better ending.

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