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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Chain comes a pulse-pounding thriller about a family that must face their darkest fears–and deepest secrets–when they go on the run for their lives.INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER · A NEW YORK TIMES "BEST THRILLER OF 2022"
"Unrelenting suspense." —Stephen King
“Extraordinary.” —T. J. Newman, New York Times bestselling author of Falling
"You'll never go on vacation the same way again." —Don Winslow, New York Times bestselling author of City On Fire
IT WAS JUST SUPPOSED TO BE A FAMILY VACATION.
A TERRIBLE ACCIDENT CHANGED EVERYTHING.
YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE CAPABLE OF UNTIL THEY COME FOR YOUR FAMILY.
After moving from a small country town to Seattle, Heather Baxter marries Tom, a widowed doctor with a young son and teenage daughter. A working vacation overseas seems like the perfect way to bring the new family together, but once they’re deep in the Australian outback, the jet-lagged and exhausted kids are so over their new mom.
When they discover remote Dutch Island, off-limits to outside visitors, the family talks their way onto the ferry, taking a chance on an adventure far from the reach of iPhones and Instagram.
But as soon as they set foot on the island, which is run by a tightly knit clan of locals, everything feels wrong. Then a shocking accident propels the Baxters from an unsettling situation into an absolute nightmare.
When Heather and the kids are separated from Tom, they are forced to escape alone, seconds ahead of their pursuers.
Now it’s up to Heather to save herself and the kids, even though they don’t trust her, the harsh bushland is filled with danger, and the locals want her dead.
Heather has been underestimated her entire life, but she knows that only she can bring her family home again and become the mother the children desperately need, even if it means doing the unthinkable to keep them all alive.
SOON TO BE A HULU ORIGINAL SERIES
“Gripping and unpredictable. No one does high-stakes tension like McKinty . . . Prepare to be hooked.” —Sarah Pearse
“A haunting masterpiece.” —Steve Cavanagh
“McKinty has written another irresistible and pulse-pounding thriller about the surprising places evil hides and just how far we’ll go for those we love.” —Karin Slaughter
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
The characters in this book visit the lands of the Bunurong people. The author would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of these lands and pay his respects to their Elders past and present. First Nations people were the first storytellers on this land, which always was and always will be Aboriginal land.
Copyright © 2022 by Adrian McKinty
Cover design by Gregg Kulick
Cover art © Trevillion Images
Cover copyright © 2023 Hachette Book Group, Inc.
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Oodgeroo Noonuccal, "Not My Style," from My People. Copyright © 1992 by Oodgeroo. Reproduced with permission of John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
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Be not afeard; the Isle is full of noises,
sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
William Shakespeare, The Tempest, 1611
Of the bitter and the sweet,
Oodgeroo Noonuccal, "Not My Style," 1971
A crow with a skeptical yellow eye was watching her from the lightning-struck eucalyptus tree.
The crow was death.
If it called out, she was dead. If it flew toward Jacko and he turned to look, she was dead.
The crow observed her with a half-turned head.
She crawled through the brittle grass, reached the tree trunk, stopped, and caught her breath.
She wiped the sweat from her forehead with the bottom of the T-shirt. She sucked the moisture from the shirt as best she could.
She composed herself for a minute and then crept past the tree until she reached the edge of the heath. There was nothing now but beach between her and Jacko. No vegetation. No cover. There wasn't much point crawling anymore.
Slowly, ever so slowly, she got to her feet.
Carefully, she moved the machete from her left to her right hand. It was a heavy old thing, caked with rust. She gripped the split wooden handle and hoped it wouldn't fall to pieces when she swung it.
Steadying herself, she cautiously advanced.
She had killed before—salmon, trout, duck.
This was different, though, wasn't it? Very different.
This was a human being.
Jacko sat with his back to her, his legs astride the oil drum. The ancient rifle strapped over his shoulder looked lethal enough from here.
She walked closer, slowly, on bare feet over the stones and gravel.
In the bay something huge moved under the water not far from the shore. They had been right not to try to swim to safety. That was the scarred dorsal fin of a great white. Jacko had seen the shark too. He stood, slipped the rifle from his shoulder, and took a shot at it. The gun went off with an almighty bang that ripped through the stillness. Herons and gulls lifted from the mudflats.
She looked back at the crow.
It wasn't fazed. It was still perched on the highest blackened tree branch, gazing at her sideways. It had observed scenes like this play out before. No doubt it was expecting carrion soon.
Jacko had evidently missed. "Bugger!" he said to himself and stood there holding the rifle in both hands as the shark swam into the bay and was lost to view.
She waited for him to put the gun away, but he didn't.
He just stood there, staring at the water.
Olivia was still sprawled in front of him, unmoving.
The walkie-talkie hissed.
Jacko tugged the rifle bolt backward and a brass cartridge came flying out onto the sand. He pushed the bolt forward again and a new round slipped into the chamber.
If she made any sound now and he turned, she knew that he would shoot her point-blank in the chest. She knew guns and had pretended to like them to get time with her dad. She knew that the exit wound from a .303 at this range would be the size of a baseball.
She stood still, waiting for him to reshoulder the rifle, but Jacko just kept gazing at the sea, mumbling to himself.
The sun was behind her, and her shadow was inching into his field of view. She didn't like that. If there had been any other way of approaching him, she would have done it, but there was no other way. If he peered just to his left, he'd see the tip of her silhouette.
At least she was upwind.
The seagulls landed. The herons settled on the water.
The sun beat down on her exposed neck and arms.
Finally Jacko reslung the rifle over his shoulder and sat. He took out his lighter and cigarettes. He lit himself a smoke and put the lighter in his pocket.
She tried a step forward. The shadow moved too.
Jacko didn't flinch. She was fifteen feet away now. He leaned back and blew smoke at the sky. She took another step toward him. Toes, then sole, then heel. Placing her feet on the stony beach with the lightest of touches.
Toes, sole, heel.
A short, sharp stab of perfect pain.
The jagged edge of an old bottle had pierced the skin of her heel.
She bit her lip to stop herself crying out. Her shadow was swaying from side to side, seemingly trying to attract Jacko's attention. Blinking away tears, she crossed her legs and sat. She was bleeding, but the bottle had not penetrated too deeply. She took hold of the glass fragment and eased it out of her foot. She licked her thumb and rubbed at the wound, and it began to feel better. She took a flat stone and held it against the cut. The bleeding slowed. It would have to do. She couldn't sit here all day.
She got to her feet again and took a few tentative steps.
Her treasonous shadow was well into Jacko's field of view now.
She could read the writing on the back of his sweat-drenched yellow tank top. There was a red star above the words BINTANG BEER.
She could smell him. He reeked of body odor, cigarette smoke, engine oil.
It was quiet. The echoes of the rifle shot were gone and the only sound was the seawater rushing through the channel.
To her left the last hint of early-morning mist was evaporating in the sunlight. The air was expectant with the coming heat. It was going to be a scorcher. Easily over one hundred and ten degrees.
It was, she remembered, February 14. Funny how the seasons were reversed like that. Back home it would be in the forties or even colder.
Exactly twelve months ago Tom had come in for his first massage-therapy appointment in the clinic in West Seattle. It had been snowing. When he'd lain down on the table, he still had snowflakes in his hair.
What a difference a year made.
She'd been childless then, on the verge of unemployment, living in that damp apartment near Alki Beach. Now she was married and responsible for two children and about to kill a man she barely knew on a different beach on the far side of the world.
She took three more careful steps and raised the machete.
The sign said ALICE SPRINGS 25, TENNANT CREEK 531, DARWIN 1,517.
She took that in for a second or two.
If they somehow missed Alice they would have to go another five hundred kilometers (over three hundred miles) before they could get food, water, or gas. She looked through the windows on either side of the empty highway and saw exactly nothing. The radio had been drifting in and out for the past twenty minutes but the signal, perhaps, was getting a little stronger. She could make out John Lennon singing about "old flat-top" who was "groovin' up slowly."
She could identify pretty much every Beatles song from just one or two bars or a snatch of lyrics. Her parents and almost everyone else on Goose Island had worshipped John Lennon, and with only intermittent TV and internet reception, music had been even more important. The song ended and a DJ began his patter. "That was 'Come Together,' the opening track of Abbey Road. And before that we had 'Hey Jude.' Can anyone tell me what album 'Hey Jude' was on?"
The DJ paused for his listeners to reply.
"It wasn't on any album, it was a seven-inch single," Heather whispered.
"Nah, don't call in. This isn't a competition. It's a trick question. 'Hey Jude' never got released on any of the original Beatles albums, just the compilations. Well, mates, I hope you enjoyed the balmy weather at midnight where we just hit the low temperature for the day—thirty-six degrees centigrade, which for you oldsters is ninety-six point eight degrees Fahrenheit."
Tom groaned in his sleep and she lowered the volume. He had a busy morning ahead, and every second of sleep he could get now would help him. She turned to look at the kids. They too were asleep. Although Owen had been on his phone until about a half an hour ago, hoping against hope that a Wi-Fi signal would materialize out of the desert. Olivia had conked out long before that. Heather checked that both their seat belts were still securely fastened and turned her attention back to the empty road.
She drove on.
Rattling transmission. Moths in the headlights. The drumming of the Toyota's wheels on the blacktop.
She reflected that the Mad Max movies had been skillfully edited to erase the actual tedium of driving through outback Australia. The landscape from Uluru had all been like this. It made one long for the comparative excitement of the morning traffic jam on the West Seattle Bridge. No other vehicles at all here; just the noise of the Toyota and the radio drifting in and out. There were no people around, but at a roadwork sign she could see big khaki machines covered in dust resting by the cutoff like slumbering mastodons.
She drove on and began to worry that she had taken a wrong turn. There was no sign of a city or an airport. The GPS hadn't updated in a long time and according to it, she was lost in a vast blank nothingness somewhere in the Northern Territory.
Her uneasiness increased as the road surface got worse. She looked for signs of life ahead or out the side windows.
Damn it, back at the construction site she must have taken the wrong—
A big gray kangaroo suddenly appeared in the headlights.
She slammed on the brakes, and the Toyota shuddered to a stop with an alarming amount of deceleration. Tom and the kids were flung forward, then pulled back again by their seat belts.
Tom groaned. Olivia whimpered. Owen grunted. But none of them woke.
"Wow," she said and stared at the kangaroo. It was still standing there, five feet in front of the car. Another second and they would have had a serious accident. Her hands were shaking. It was hard to breathe. She needed some air. She put the Toyota in park and, leaving the lights on, turned off the engine. She opened the door and got out. The night was warm.
"Scoot," she said to the big kangaroo. "I can't go on if you're in the middle of the road."
It didn't move. "Scoot!" she said and clapped her hands.
It was still staring at the car. How could it not understand the universal language of scoot?
"The headlights might have blinded it. Turn 'em off," a voice said from the darkness to her right.
Heather jumped and turned to see a man standing a few yards away from her in the desert. On learning that she was going to Australia, Carolyn had warned her about the "world's deadliest snakes and spiders," and when that hadn't worked she sent her a list of movies about hitchhikers murdered in the bush by maniacs. "It's an entire genre, Heather! It must be based on reality," Carolyn said.
Heather had watched only one of them, Wolf Creek, but that was scary enough for her.
"I didn't mean to startle you," the man said. Her heart was thumping, but the man's voice was so calm, gentle, and unthreatening that she was put immediately at ease.
"Um, sorry, what was that about the lights?" she asked.
"The headlights must have blinded it. Turn 'em off and give it a minute," the man said.
She reached into the Toyota and killed the lights. The man waited for a few moments and then walked onto the road. "Go on, big fella! Go on out of it!" he said and clapped his hands. The kangaroo turned its head, looked at both of them with seeming indifference, and then, at its own pace, hopped off into the night.
"Well, that was something. Thank you," Heather said and offered the man her hand. He shook it. He was about five foot six, around sixty years old, with dark, curly hair. He was wearing a red sweater with jean shorts and flip-flops. They had been in Australia now for nearly a week, but this was the first Aboriginal person Heather had come across. Out here in the middle of nowhere.
"You're not from around here, I reckon," the man said.
"No. Not at all. I'm Heather, from Seattle. Um, in America."
"I'm Ray. I'm not from around here either. We just come in for the show. Me mob, that is."
"Yeah, we just come in for the show. Come in every year."
As her eyes adjusted to the darkness she saw now that there were a lot of people with him in the desert. In fact, it was an entire camp, maybe twenty or thirty in all. Older people and young children. Most of them were sleeping but some were sitting around the embers of a fire.
"Where are you trying to get to? Alice?" Ray asked.
"I'm trying to reach the airport. If I keep going on this road—"
"Nah, they should have signed it better. This road'll take you on a big circle out into the bush. Just go back to where you saw the roadwork and go right. You'll be in Alice in fifteen minutes. There won't be any traffic."
Ray nodded. They stood awkwardly for a moment. She found that she didn't quite want the conversation to end. "What's the show you're talking about?" she asked.
"The Alice Springs show. It's the big event of the year in these parts. The white fellas don't like us to be around town but they can't stop us coming in for the show."
"What is the show? A state fair?"
Ray nodded. "Something like that, I reckon. It's a livestock show but there's food and music. Rides for the kids. People come in from hundreds of miles away. It's usually in July. Having it earlier this year. Mobs from all over the territory, even some from Queensland. My mob's been walking in for three days."
She gazed at his "mob" again with wonder. These people—grandmothers, parents, young children—had been walking across this desert for three days?
"None of the nippers will have met an American before. Something for them to talk about. Mind if we say a quick hello?" Ray asked.
Heather spent a few minutes meeting Ray's family—the ones who were awake, anyway. His granddaughter Nikko, his wife, Chloe. Chloe admired her earrings and Heather begged her to take them as a thank-you gift for Ray's helping her back on the road again. The gift was accepted but not before Ray gave Heather a small penknife he'd made himself.
"I'm selling these at the show. Jarrah hardwood and meteor iron," he said.
"Yeah. From the one that came down at Wilkinkarra."
The penknife was carved with emus and kangaroos on one side and what she took to be the Milky Way on the other. It was beautiful. She shook her head. "I can't possibly take this! It must be worth hundreds of—"
"I'll be lucky to get twenty bucks each. Take it. It's fair dinkum. An exchange. The earrings for the knife. See the ring at the bottom of it? I've been told that if you put your keys on that and put it in the tray outside the metal detector with your phone, you can even fly with it. They just think it's a key-fob thing."
Ray was not to be talked out of the gift and she accepted it with good grace. She got in the Toyota, waved goodbye, and retraced her journey to the roadwork sign; this time she took the correct turn for Alice. As the town got closer, the road became more certain of itself. Houses and stores loomed out of the dark. She saw campfires with men and women gathered around them. More Indigenous people who, apparently, had all come in for the show.
The phone reacquired a GPS signal. The radio came back on. "At the next junction, take a left for Alice Springs airport," Google Maps suddenly announced in a perky Australian accent. Heather was at the airport ten minutes later. She drove to the rental-car lot and turned the engine off. A sign said DO NOT FEED DINGOES, WILD DOGS, OR FERAL CATS above a drawing of a sad-looking dog and an indifferent cat. She made sure the doors were locked and let everyone sleep for a while longer.
"We're here," she said finally and gave Tom a gentle shake.
He stretched. "Oh, great. Thank you, honey. I would have driven some! You should have woken me. Any problems?"
"Not really, but there was a big kangaroo in the middle of the road," she said, attaching the penknife to her key chain.
"You saw a kangaroo and you didn't wake us? Come on, Heather!" Owen grumbled from the back seat before a yawn convulsed him.
They woke Olivia and got their bags and walked dazed and bleary-eyed into the terminal building. They were three hours early for the flight. Tom had never been late for a flight in his life and he wasn't going to start a bad habit now. The airport was deserted except for an overly made-up goth couple who apparently looked nothing like their passport photographs. When it was her turn at the X-ray machine, Heather smiled at an older female security officer.
"Goths these days, too much makeup and not nearly enough pillaging," she said. The woman thought about it for a second and then chuckled to herself. She waved the family through.
No one confiscated the penknife. Which was lucky for Heather. Because two days later it would save her life.
They walked a sleepy Owen and Olivia to the gate. The flight boarded early and they were the only passengers in the business section; in fact, they were practically the only passengers on the whole plane. Tom was a nervous flier. You wouldn't think from his professional persona that he ever got nervous, but he did. When he had first come into the massage clinic, Heather realized almost immediately that his back problems were not the result of "an old skiing injury" but tension that he was storing in his shoulders and lower back. Doctors were often the most skeptical about the benefits of a good massage, but all she had had to do was grind it out and he was 80 percent cured by the end of the first session. The fact that he kept returning for massage therapy had more to do with the connection that they had made than any "injury."
The flight attendants began making the safety announcements.
She patted Tom's leg and he gave her a smile.
"I'm hungry," Owen said.
Heather fished in her backpack and offered him a granola bar. He shook his head. "Not those ones! Oh my God, Heather, you know I hate those ones!"
"We finished all the strawberry ones. This is all we have left," Heather said.
"Forget it, then!" Owen said. He put his headphones back on, pulled up his hood, plugged his phone into the charger, and restarted his driving game.
Heather did a little meditation while the plane taxied. Everything is the path. Her tiredness was the path, Owen's dirty look was the path, Tom's stress was the path, Olivia's beautiful, sleepy face was the path.
They took off just before the dawn, and the landscape from the left side of the aircraft was spectacular, the sun coming up over what seemed to be a vast red emptiness. Australia was almost as big as America but had less than a tenth of the population. A desert of ocher, red, and vermilion. Immense Saharas of iron-oxide nothingness interrupted by huge sandstone boulders that looked like grave markers for a long-extinct race of giants. She thought of Ray and his "mob" walking through that to get to the show. It beggared belief.
Her eyes were heavy. I'll just close them for a minute, she thought.
She woke when they touched down in Melbourne. She'd been dreaming about Seattle. Snow in the woods of Schmitz Park. "Where…" she began and then remembered.
The airport was like all airports, and the city from the back of a big SUV seemed like all cities. Tom was in the front chatting with Jenny, the conference rep. Heather sat in the back next to a still dozing Olivia. Owen was awake now, buried in his book about Australian snakes, his hood pulled up, not looking out the window. At dinner parties, one of the things Tom and his Generation X friends worried about were Millennials and Generation Zers not "engaging fully with the world," but Heather didn't blame Owen at all for not engaging. The world had taken his lovely mother from him just before his twelfth birthday. The world had shoved a skinny stranger who was supposed to be a "new mom" into his life. What a crock.
"As per your request, I've put you in an Airbnb on the beach," Jenny said, leaning around and looking at Heather. She was a young woman in her twenties, copper-haired, smiley.
"I didn't ask for—" Heather began.
"I asked for it, sweetie," Tom said. "So much better than the conference hotel. I checked it out online. It's great. A home away from home."
"Oh, sure, that's fine," Heather agreed, although secretly she had been looking forward to room service and a bit of pampering while Tom did his conference stuff.
They drove along the glittering Melbourne shoreline, past a lighthouse and a marina. There were palm trees and a beach and an indigo ocean.
Tom gently prodded Olivia. "This reminds me, why do you never see elephants hiding in palm trees?"
- "Unrelenting suspense. It reminded me a little of Jaws."—Stephen King
- “This summer’s major literary thrill ride…. Adrian McKinty is a master.”—USA Today
"One of this summer's best standalone thrillers."
—The Boston Globe
- "Thriller fans, think nothing can shock you anymore? Check out The Island. It’s an adrenaline rush from beginning to end."—Reader's Digest
- "A tense, adrenaline-fueled thriller."—Time Magazine
“The locals aren’t always friendly in vacation hot spots, but on the closed-to-the-public island Tom sneaks his family in to for fun, they’re out to kill. Maybe Disney World next time?”
"What a shock it was to discover how deeply invested I became in the fate of the characters of The Island, a propulsive, insane story, about an all-out struggle for survival between an Australian family and a group of American interlopers. . . . Heather, who starts as a clueless young bride who expects her older husband to take care of her and has no love for his children, becomes not just a Charlize Theron-worthy badass but also a great stepmother who helps two damaged kids come into their own.”
—The New York Times Book Review
- "Deliverance meets The Road Warrior in this harrowing survival thriller . . . McKinty is a master of suspense."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
- “Expertly choreographed and breathlessly exciting . . . both the peril and the family are like no other. The Chain was McKinty’s breakthrough novel and this one could be every bit as big.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Wow, this book left me breathless and on the edge of my seat from the very first page—this is thriller writing of a high order. Gripping and unpredictable, prepare to be hooked and pumped full of adrenaline as McKinty deftly weaves a compulsively readable plot with characters that you are rooting for. No one does high- stakes tension like McKinty. Put The Island at the top of your TBR—you won’t regret it.”
—Sarah Pearse, New York Times bestselling author of The Sanatorium
“Heart-stoppingly tense and unpredictable, The Island twists a family vacation to a nightmarish breaking point. Adrian McKinty has written another irresistible and pulse-pounding thriller about the surprising places evil hides and just how far we’ll go for those we love.”
—Karin Slaughter, New York Times bestselling author of Pieces of Her
- "The action is frenetic and relentless . . . entirely satisfying if you’re looking for a reliable nightmare or two.”—Toronto Star
- "An exciting thriller that... pulls readers compulsively onward."—Kirkus Reviews
"McKinty delivers another skillful, blade-sharp page-turner."
—James Swallow, bestselling author of Nomad
"A pulsating, nerve-shredding thriller. I loved it!"
—M. J. Arlidge, bestselling author of Eeny Meeny
- Praise for the instant New York Times bestseller The Chain
- "McKinty hangs on to his wit and literacy even under duress...Beneath its surface of high-speed thrills, The Chain is clearly the work of the philosophical thinker McKinty has always been."—Janet Maslin, New York Times
- "The pace quickens and the tension builds whenever the mother and daughter appear in a scene. In the end, what makes The Chain so frightening - and why it works so well as a thriller - is that all of Rachel's actions remain completely relatable, even as she whipsaws between terror and determination, morphing from victim to perpetrator."—Tina Jordan, The New York Times
- "This is more than nail-biting; think cuticle-shredding."—Bethanne Patrick, The Washington Post
- "A chilling, diabolical page-turner you'll want to savor."—People Magazine, Book of the Week
- "Thrillers... don't get much more psychologically rich than The Chain." —David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly
- "This nightmarish story is incredibly propulsive and original. You won't shake it for a long time."—Stephen King
- "You have never read anything quite like The Chain and you will never be able to forget it. Brilliant. Beautifully written. A masterpiece of tension. The Chain scared the hell out of me but I could not put it down! I raced to the end of the book and then went back to see how Adrian McKinty pulled it all off. The Chain belongs in the elite company of world-class thrillers like Gone Girl and The Silence of the Lambs. This is nothing short of JAWS for parents."—Don Winslow, New York Times bestselling author of The Cartel and The Force
- On Sale
- May 17, 2022
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Little, Brown and Company