One Kick by Chelsea Cain
Kick Lannigan, 21, is a survivor. Abducted at age six in broad daylight, the police, the public, perhaps even her family assumed the worst had occurred. And then Kathleen Lannigan was found, alive, six years later. In the early months following her freedom, as Kick struggled with PTSD, her parents put her through a litany of therapies, but nothing helped until the detective who rescued her suggested Kick learn to fight. Before she was thirteen, Kick learned marksmanship, martial arts, boxing, archery, and knife throwing. She excelled at every one, vowing she would never be victimized again. But when two children in the Portland area go missing in the same month, Kick goes into a tailspin. Then an enigmatic man Bishop approaches her with a proposition: he is convinced Kick’s experiences and expertise can be used to help rescue the abductees. Little does Kick know the case will lead directly into her terrifying past…
I like to throw the odd crime novel into my reading schedule every now and again. Like historical fiction, I’ve only started reading crime in the last couple of years, but in that short period of time I’ve been lucky enough to read some fine examples of both.
I knew very little about One Kick and absolutely nothing about Chelsea Cain before I opened this novel so I came at it with no preconceptions. Why did I decide to read it? Something about the blurb caught my attention. In retrospect, I’m rather glad that it did. This was quite the introduction to Cain’s writing.
Kick Lannigan is described as a survivor, but I’m not sure I can agree. It doesn’t feel like an appropriate enough way to describe her, she has become so much more than that. The sustained trauma that Kick has experienced, her years in captivity, have forced her to evolve into something entirely different from the person she once was. There is little evidence of the old Kick, but she has been replaced, subsumed by a living weapon. She has become an expert in defending herself. Kick’s brittle, often acerbic, personality has also evolved to protect her and ensure she can never be hurt again. Her only friends are her ancient dog, Monster, and another ex-kidnap victim, James.
Enter John Bishop, a mysterious figure who may or may not be Kick’s new best friend. Bishop wants to use Kick’s experience to help track down two missing children. He remains quite the paradox throughout. There is little doubt that Bishop is using Kick to further his own agenda, but it is never entirely revealed what that agenda is. Yes, he wants to help find the children, but you get the sense that there is definitely something more going on as well. That ambiguity creates an interesting dynamic between the two. Kick doesn’t trust him, but in fairness, she probably doesn’t trust anyone. As they delve further and further into the kidnappings, a grudging respect starts to develop. I’d be keen to see where this relationship goes in the future.
As the plot builds to the inevitable showdown with the kidnapper, Kick is forced to confront her demons, both physical and psychological. The narrative also features a handful of flashbacks that offer further insight into Kick’s traumatic childhood years. These chapters help to deconstruct her complex character and all the raw emotions that our protagonist constantly battles with. This introspective exploration of Kick’s character adds some well-observed additional depth to proceedings.
Cain’s writing manages to be many things all at once – affecting, thoughtful and utterly enthralling. I don’t think I was expecting that in what I thought was going to just be another run-of-the-mill crime novel. It turns out I was way off, and One Kick is much, much more. A word of caution however, the plot does travel to some extremely dark and violent places. It is likely that this may be a trigger for some readers. That said, the author does treat what can be a harrowing subject matter respectfully and uses a delicate touch wherever possible.
Sometimes shocking, like an unexpected punch to the gut, One Kick is truly emotive fare. I can’t imagine any reader will be able to walk away from this book and not feel changed in some way by the experience. I can only hope that there will be more novels featuring these characters, I’d read them in a second.
One Kick is published by Simon and Schuster and is available now.