Review: One Kick by Chelsea Cain

One KickWhile Kick Lannigan has about as much baggage as a character can carry, ONE KICK is an impressive debut in a new series from New York Times bestselling author Chelsea Cain.

Kick Lannigan was kidnapped at the age of five and indoctrinated into a child paedophile ring. Ripped from the clutches of her family at such a young age, her perceptions were warped; when we meet Kick at the beginning of the novel as an eleven-year-old, she refers to her captors as mom and dad. Having spent so long with them, the memories of her previous life faded to a mere flicker. It’s no surprise then, when she’s rescued, she struggles to readjust to normal life. After the first chapter, Cain shifts the narrative ten years forward, where 21-year-old Kick has attempted to compensate for her abuse by mastering certain skillsets. She’s now a master marksman; she carries a Glock, a taser, and even ninja stars. She’s an expert lock picker, and a martial artist. She’s also got an unhealthy obsession with child-abduction cases.

In some respects, Kick is emblematic of some clichéd tropes: a victimised woman whose strength and iron will is founded on a single event. But through deft characterization, Kick never becomes a caricature. Cain infuses Kick with real emotion; behind her tough-as-nails exterior is something brittle. All of the skills she’s learned are really just papering the cracks. And as the first installment in a new series, it makes sense that she doesn’t complete her entire character arc here. Cain tells a complete story in ONE KICK, but to see how Kick progresses, to see if she’s ever truly able to overcome the dark tendrils of her past, we’re going to have to tune in next time.

When two children are abducted in the space of a few weeks, Kick is approached by John Bishop, a weapons dealer determined to crush those responsible. Bishop is typically enigmatic, the kind of character that features in every thriller. Like Kick, we question his true intentions – is he a good guy, is he a bad guy, is he somewhere in between – and he’s a decent foil for Kick – that is, until their relationship crosses the line, which was completely unnecessary, and felt like a scene from an eighties action movie, where the male and female leads indulge in a night of intercourse, usually just before the climactic scene. Remember when Madelyn Hayes and David Addison hooked up in MOONLIGHTING, eradicating any kind of sexual tension from the show and signing its death warrant? Cain chooses not to play the will-they-won’t-they card, which is an interesting storytelling choice, which has me wondering if there will be any consequences in future novels.

Kick and Bishop’s investigation forces her to confront some figures from her past, and quickly leads to threats to those closest to her in the present. Despite the dark subject matter, Cain sidesteps bogging the story in the hideousness of her antagonist’s predilections. The dark overtone is constant, but it’s not excessively flagrant. Cain straddles the fence perfectly, and should be applauded for massaging such horrifying subject matter into a palatable narrative.

ONE KICK is the kind of page-turning thriller that makes for the perfect summertime beach read. Long-time Cain fans will be interested to know the author refers to this as her “PG-13” series; which makes me wonder about the content of her Archie Sheridan / Gretchen Lowell novels. I guess there’s only one way to find out…

My thanks to Simon & Schuster for providing an ARC of the novel.

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