One Kick – Chelsea Cain

One KickChelsea Cain has created another singular character for her latest bestseller. One Kick introduces Kick Lannigan, a damaged abuse victim who tasks herself with saving children from the same fate.

The blurb practices on nuchunks day and night:

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…

One kick is intended as the beginning of a series, and as a first book in a series it has all the strengths and weaknesses you’d expect.

First up, I like the Kick very much. She’s a complex and well-rounded protag, and one of the most vulnerable kick-ass characters you’ll ever meet. Kick is tough and resilient, but she’s no superwoman.

For someone so obsessed with self-defence and weaponry, she comes out worse in a lot of violent encounters. You get the sense of a little girl playing at being Bruce Lee. She’s created this illusion of a force field around her – a bit like Jeff Bridges believing himself invulnerable in that movie Fearless – and it’s this uncertainty that really powers the character. The martial arts and the Glocks and the throwing stars and all the weaponry and skills she’s accrued are a coping mechanism as much as anything else.

But the story’s narrative stutters a bit, as Cain is preoccupied with establishing the initially hostile relationship between Kick and the man who leads her on a journey into her dark past. Bishop is one of those convenient mysterious characters – a ruthless fixer for a super-rich fellow, a kind of black-hatted Thomas Magnum, with money to burn and access to copters and jets and all sorts. Together the pair retrace her nightmare journey as a child in a bid to find a missing boy. But the investigation struggles to gain momentum, it lurches forward in fits and starts, leading to a somewhat abrupt climax. Happily, Cain knows her way round a set-piece and they’re worth waiting for.

This being Cain, it’s very dark – her other series, of course, features glamorous serial killer Gretchen Lowell – but she’s an old hand at juggling light and shade. The hostile wisecracks between the pair come from a painful place – the enigmatic John Bishop has his own burdens to carry, not least having the same name as a popular UK comedian –  and Kick’s traumatic backstory, of kidnap and abuse, gives Kick’s obsession with saving childen from a similar fate a toxic obsession.

There’s a fine gallery of supporting players, including Kick’s publicity-hungry mother, her computer whizzkid friend James and her creepy kidnapper Mel, with whom she has a sick, insoluble emotional bond. But it’s Kick who takes the centre stage, she’s a brave and compelling heroine, a born survivor, and there’s no doubt that with a lot of the rules of her world established, and some questions left dangling, that Cain is hard at work on the follow-up.

Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for the review copy of One Kick.

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