Book Review: The Chain by Adrian McKinty

The Chain (2019)
Author: Adrian McKinty

One of Edgar Wright’s next film projects is an adaptation of this novel by Adrian McKinty and when I heard the basic concept it sounded brilliantly twisty and complex so I bought a second-hand copy, read it, and I have thoughts!

When her daughter is kidnapped, a single mother finds herself the latest link in a long chain of parents who have had to kidnap another person’s child in order to get their own released.

This novel has made it on to many bestseller lists and has won some prestigious awards. I can see why it’s sold well, the premise alone interested me enough to buy it, but I have to say that after finishing it I’m a bit surprised about the awards. It’s got the potential to make a great movie, the premise alone grabs attention, so I can see why there’s interest in adapting it especially in the hands of a director like Edgar Wright and with writer Jane Goldman it could be excellent, but as a novel, there are some major issues that jumped out at me.

Split into two halves, I can happily say that the first half was very good, a real page-turner with very short chapters that work well with the ‘moreish’ nature of a gripping read. The concept is fascinating, there’s so much complexity to the implications of what the characters have to do, it could go really deep on these things and at times tries to. As it’s told from the perspective of the characters embroiled we get some insight into what they’re thinking, the horror of the situation they find themselves in and what they’re asked to do. The second half has a massive change in tone and pace as well as a disappointing loss of its grip on what made the story good so far. 

McKinty needed an editor, surely there was one, someone honest and firm, a trusted advisor to point out some really stupid choices that needed changing to make sure the second half didn’t completely let down the excellent first. Some things are far too convenient, like a character who used to work in cybersecurity and has kept all the kit, choices like that stretch plausibility but they’re able to be reasoned on and forgivable, others are simply not. There’s one point in the novel where a major upcoming twist is prematurely spoilt by a completely unnecessary detail being mentioned. It’s honestly just a word that could easily be left out of the sentence without in any way changing what’s being said, just hiding an additional specific detail that made me shout out loud with frustration as I said to myself ‘that detail wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t because this is going to be the twist’. Stupid, really stupid to reveal something major in such a throwaway manner, especially as it’s later played like a major reveal. It should’ve been, it easily could’ve been. It wasn’t. 

At one point a character wonders who would play him in the movie adaptation of this episode in his life, an overly indulgent exchange that makes a little sense coming as it does after a few chapters that have played out in the most shameless action-movie way imaginable. They lose all grip on the fascinating premise and deep moral and philosophical conundrums that have driven interesting character-based drama, and just describes an overused generic horror/action scene that I’ve seen on screen countless times done past the point of pastiche and into parody. It’s at this point that I had to just give McKinty credit for achieving what was so obviously his goal, he’s written something that will be getting adapted for the screen. I think he got to this point of writing the novel, realised he was on to something good that might be successful, might even get turned into a film, then just recklessly steers into that lane, writing what he then thought would be the crowd-pleasingly cinematic resolution to what started out as an intellectually-complex psychological thriller.

I actually think there’s a chance the film might end up being considerably better than the book, if I was able to easily pick out some serious failings, so will screenwriter Jane Goldman (‘Stardust’, ‘X-Men: First Class’) and Edgar Wright, and they’re all things that are weaknesses in the writing. They might adapt the final act as it’s written, it’s ready for the screen as it is, you could literally lift it word-for-word into the screenplay and make five minutes of formatting adjustments. I’m not exaggerating. I hope they don’t do that, they have the skill to improve upon it, and unless they plan to make certain things clear from the outset, they could also turn the big reveal into the ‘twist’ it was meant to be all along, which won’t come as such to anyone who’s read the novel, but would be excellent for an unprepared audience if played right in the film. 

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