The Chain: kidnapping, ransom and yet at it’s heart, it’s about love and the things a parent will do for their children

The Chain book review

What is this about?: Rachel’s daughter, Kylie, is kidnapped and she is told she has to pay a ransom and kidnap another kid to keep The Chain going. What follows is a relentless story, of which Kylie’s kidnapping is only one part.

What else is this about?: What will you do for your kid? Or someone you love completely? The Chain plays on our worst fears — and also makes me frigging hate chain letters. Chain messages and DMs too.


You just dropped off your child at the bus stop.

A panicked stranger calls your phone.

Your child has been kidnapped.

The stranger then explains that their child has also been kidnapped, by a completely different stranger.

The only way to get your child back is to kidnap another child – within 24 hours.

Your child will be released only when the next victim’s parents kidnap yet another child.

And most importantly, the stranger explains, if you don’t kidnap a child, or if the next parents don’t kidnap a child, your child will be murdered.You are now part of The Chain.

The Chain is relentless.

It does not stop from the moment you start reading as McKinty drags readers and Rachel into a furious journey to kidnap a kid and save Kylie. It’s the kind of book that has you furiously turning pages, and then when you finish exhaling in exhaustion.

What is The Chain?

McKinty takes the concept of a chain letter and couples it with the real life stories of exchange kidnappings that happen in Mexico and came up with The Chain: parents are approached by strangers and told their child has been kidnapped. They’re instructed to pay a ransom, and kidnap another kid or their kid will be killed. Once all the instructions have been followed by everyone, their kid gets released.

There’s something profoundly disturbing about this — the people doing the kidnapping are parents themselves, who are willing to do anything to save their children — and do the anything part to the children they themselves have kidnapped, or the parents or anyone else who stands in their way. They have to, if they want their kids back alive. And all the while, there’s someone else pulling their strings — someone who can’t be reasoned with, someone who wants money and someone who has no problem ordering kids to be killed.

And that’s where Rachel finds herself when Kylie is kidnapped.

Who is Rachel? And Kylie? And Pete?

Rachel is a mum. She’s fighting cancer, and tells bad jokes that make Kylie groan out loud, even though she enjoys them.

For all that she has her flaws, her love for her daughter is steadfast. She will do anything she has to: she’ll lie to people to get the ransom, lie to her ex in the smoothest way possible when he comes to pick up Kylie and she’s gone. She’ll kidnap a kid, and think on her feet when her plan goes awry because that’s what she has to do.

And she’ll bring the kid she has chained up in a basement Kylie’s stuffed toy to comfort her.

Rachel is this fascinating mix of vulnerability over steel. For whatever you may think of her when the book starts, you’ll think of her differently by the end.

Kylie is a wonderful surprise in this: sure she’s scared, but the kid is resourceful and determined and she will do whatever she has to make sure she lives. Or escapes. Or protects her mother against The Chain.

The third person in this trio is Pete, Kylie’s ex-brother in law. He’s a former soldier, and he’s an addict and he adores Kylie. It’s to Pete that Rachel turns for help, Pete who comes through when she needs it the most — and not Marty, Kylie’s father. Marty is the kind of man who coasts through life never thinking too much about anything beyond his own little sphere of existence. He loves Kylie and he worries for Rachel, but I get the impression his mind is always on something else when he’s talking to them.


McKinty has written flawed characters, ones who are messed up and mess up, but what drew me to them is that they find a way through — these characters know who they are and they still continue — with paying a ransom, kidnapping a kid and comforting her in the same breath.

Characterisation, accompanied by the pacing, will draw you into their situation, and leave your heart in your mouth a couple of times, I swear. But that’s the strength of McKinty’s writing: pacing and characterisation have found this perfect mix, that has you on the edge of your seat for the three characters in an intimate, terrible way.

Then things go further

Because The Chain is more than just about the kidnapping. It’s about Rachel, Pete and Kylie risking everything —  risking the wrath of The Chain in fact — and it’s is wonderfully tense, heart-in-your-mouth stuff because the book builds the ruthlessness of The Chain in wonderful and painfully exquisite detail. You know what they’re risking, just like you know why they have to do it.

So, that’s The Chain. The hype machine was not wrong on this one, and it’s no wonder the movie rights have been picked up.

And hell yes, I am fannish casting this already: Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig for Rachel and Pete respectively. And Bella Ramsey (bc I may not have watched GOT, but damn was I impressed with what I did see of her character in ) or Millie Bobbie Brown for Kylie.

What’s your fannish casting for a movie like this?


  • Lark says:

    I would go see this movie!

  • Kelly says:

    Ohhhh I was so interested in this when you featured it a couple of weeks ago Verushka and ohhh my goodness, this sounds so intense. It’s disturbing that these horrific scenarios are taken from real experiences throughout Mexico, I know how dangerous it can be for young women there but I can’t even begin to describe how disturbing this is. I won’t be reading this with the lights out though that’s for sure. I’m not surprised the film rights have already been optioned. Brilliant review Verushka, absolutely loved it!

    • Verushka says:

      It’s a gorgeous, full on read, Kelly. Pacing is on point, and I absolutely love that he’s taken ordinary people, dropped them into this situation and made readers see and understand when they kidnap kids — that’s the most disturbing bit for me.

  • I love that this has so many layers to it. It sounds fantastic!

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