By Anthony Breznican
April 01, 2019 at 01:19 PM EDT
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The concept for Adrian McKinty’s new thriller The Chain is so simple and diabolical you just hope no one tries it in real life.

The premise is laid out in EW’s exclusive look at the trailer for the novel, out July 9: Your child has been kidnapped. You must kidnap another child to free yours.

The story begins with a masked man and woman abducting 13-year-old Kylie from a bus stop. Then her mother, Rachel, gets a call: She must kidnap another child, or hers will be killed.

And so on. And so on.

Rachel has also received another call — her cancer has returned. And the two people who kidnapped her daughter have also opened fire on a cop. The weak links are starting to show.

McKinty won the Edgar Award for 2016’s Rain Dogs, part of his Sean Duffy series of crime novels that includesIn the Morning I’ll Be Goneand Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly.

The Chain is already earning a reputation as a formidable thriller, collecting praise from authors such as The Border’s Don Winslow, Gone Baby Gone’s Dennis Lehane, and The Secret Place’s Tana French. Stephen King says: “This nightmarish story is incredibly propulsive and original. You won’t shake it for a long time.”

McKinty spoke with EW about where the unsettling story of The Chain originated ….

Little Brown/Mulholland

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This seems like a book that’s about corruption — take a good person, force them to do something bad, and see how they react. What was it you wanted to see happen?
ADRIAN McKINTY: Aristotle says there are no inherently “good” people or “bad” people because we are defined by what we actually do rather than who we are. So what happens if you take a good person and force them to do a bad thing? Is there a core of goodness there that can somehow be retained? Aristotle would say no but I would argue yes.

So what defines Rachel at the beginning?
Rachel is plunged deep into a nightmare but retains her essential decency even when she is forced to make terrible moral choices. Ultimately, this is a story about a mother fighting for the life of her daughter and how that journey through hell changes both of them.

It opens with Kylie at the school bus, snatched by a gun-wielding couple. Tell us about her. She’s the innocent here, what kind of kid is she, and how does she react to this?
Kylie’s a smart, happy, alert kid but she reacts the way any child would in this situation with pure animal terror. She realizes that if she’s going to survive this she has to observe as much as she can and keep a cool head and try to not let the fear paralyze her.

Then we meet her mother, who has to steal another child to free her own. What kind of woman is Rachel? Not exactly Liam Neeson in Taken? This is not something she’s prepped to handle.
The archetype of Rachel was that old tale of Demeter literally going down into hell to rescue her daughter from the darkness. The stolen child story is a very old one but for me it was very important that Rachel was an ordinary person with no “special set of skills” or abilities. She’s not a millionaire or ex-special-forces she’s just an ordinary woman, a mother, trying to cope with an extraordinary situation and save the life of her daughter.

Rachel is also a cancer patient. What does this extra burden add to her struggle?
Rachel’s a survivor and she’s got layers of steel she doesn’t know about. On the worst day of her life, the day her daughter is kidnapped by an entity known as The Chain, she is told that her cancer has returned and it doesn’t break her because when you have children you realize that your own mortality is meaningless when the life of your child is threatened. Every parent would willingly lay down their life for their kid, so Rachel’s first priority is her daughter Kylie.

Does this new ordeal toughen her or break her?
In The Chain, Rachel doesn’t become Superwoman but she does find an inner core of strength that empowers her. This is not a book about victims. It’s a book about courage and survival. The book is about Rachel and Kylie going on the classic hero’s journey, fighting the monster, and attempting to come home again.

What do readers need to know now about the people behind “the chain.” What’s in it for them if this cascade of kidnappings continues?
No one knows how long The Chain has been going for. Years, decades, centuries? It is so simple and terrible. The only way you get your child back is pay the ransom and kidnap another child to take her place. The only way your victim’s family gets their child back is to do the same. It goes on forever and if anyone ever defects or goes to the police they and their family are murdered. It’s simple, logical and terrifying.

And the victims become the perpetrators?
The Chain self-polices: you have to make sure the people you ‘recruit’ follow all the rules otherwise your child won’t get released. That’s how you become first a victim, then a kidnapper and then an enforcer. And behind it all some criminal mastermind or entity is raking in the money as they have been doing for years.

You’re bound to be asked again and again what inspired this, so let me be the first: where did this idea originate?
It was two ideas I put together. I was in Mexico City researching a different project when I read about the concept of replacement hostage taking. A vulnerable member of your family has been kidnapped and since you can’t afford to pay the ransom just now you offer to replace the weaker member of your family (your aged grandmother for example) for yourself. An exchange is made while the rest of your family try to raise the ransom.

I tied that concept to the idea of chain letters. I grew up in a very superstitious part of Ireland and in the 1970s and 1980s when I was in elementary school, we were bombarded with these scary chain letters that you had to copy out and send to three people and if you didn’t terrible curses and disasters would be visited upon you.

It’s so easy to succumb to that superstition, isn’t it? Harder to break it.
We all believed this. My fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Carlisle found out about these letters and told us to give her any of them that were bothering us. She destroyed them all in a big bonfire. She was literally the woman that broke The Chain! At the time I thought that was so brave and to be honest over the next four decades whenever I was back home in Belfast, I always asked my mother how Mrs. Carlisle was doing expecting to hear that some horrible freak accident had befallen her. In fact she’s still alive in rude good health at the age of 88.

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