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Onyx reviews: One Kick by Chelsea Cain

Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 06/08/2014

Chelsea Cain gives her series regulars, Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell, a break (a permanent one? Cain has switched to a new publisher) for this brief, breezy novel that represents the start of a new series. The title derives from a quote from Bruce Lee, who says that he doesn't fear a man who has practiced 10,000 kicks but rather a man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

The book gets off to a rollicking start with a cleverly crafted scene laden with ambiguity. Late at night, someone invades a house where a young girl named Beth has been trained for years how to fend off just such an assault. Who is this insular family and why do they live with the constant threat that someone will come looking for them? The answer is not at all what it first seems.

Inspired by the Bruce Lee quote, Cain dubs her protagonist Kick, real name: Kathleen Lannigan. The story jumps ahead ten years after the prologue, introducing readers to this twenty-one-year-old young woman with anger management and intimacy issues, no visible means of support, and an obsession with learning every form of self-defense known to mankind. 

When she was six, she was kidnapped and held for five years before being rescued by the FBI in a scenario reminiscent of the Elizabeth Smart story. She is one of the minority who survive a stranger abduction, but once readers find out what befell her during her years away from home, none will consider her lucky. She is, naturally, obsessed with stories of other abducted children, and the recent case of two missing boys taken just weeks apart has captivated her.

Kick is ever vigilant, hyperaware of her surroundings—or so she thinks. She won't let anyone take her again, but she also shuns all the media attention that arises every time another child goes missing. Reporters are constantly hounding her for updates on the anniversaries of her rescue. Her mother has made a cottage industry out of selling Kick's story over and over again. She regularly gets letters from the Department of Justice when someone else is prosecuted for accessing the exploitive videos that were made of her while in captivity. The things she has endured have been ripped from the headlines—or from an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She is never allowed to forget what happened to her. 

Because of her mother's craving for the limelight, Kick doesn't have much of a relationship with her, and she has none with her father, who left a few months after her return, for reasons that will become evident later in the novel. At seventeen, she filed for emancipation. She remembers a time when she and her sister were friends, but that's not the case any longer. Kick lives in an apartment upstairs from her brother, a computer and tech whiz who is not at all what he seems. He can do almost anything he wants on the internet, except expunge the videos of Kick.

When a mysterious stranger named John Bishop, self-avowed former weapons dealer, breaches her defenses, she resents him and the fact that he seems to have access to every bit of information about her, deference from law enforcement, and sufficient financial resources to accomplish whatever he and his equally mysterious benefactor wants. He can summon helicopters, launch police assaults, and spirit people away to island resorts at the drop of a hat. He swaggers with self-confidence and women fall at his feet...or into his bed. Bishop has secrets of his own, some of which Kick teases out of him as they become reluctant allies on a mission, part of which involves Kick reinvestigating some repressed memories. The most twisted element of the novel is Kick's complex relationship with Mel, the man who abducted her and who she thought of as a father during her captivity. The man is now dying in prison and she's forced to confront him to gain information he has steadfastly refused to divulge since his arrest—information crucial to finding the missing boys.

It's important to remember how old Kick is; otherwise, some of her behavior may seem unbelievable. Given her terrible past, though, and her relative youth, her brash and emotional reactions seem completely credible. An ordinary person of her age isn't quite fully formed as an adult yet, and Kick is far from ordinary. 

One Kick isn't exactly YA—there's plenty of sex and violence—but the book is decidedly less graphic than Cain's previous books. Perhaps this is because the character and novel is being developed for television. The story doesn't suffer from its lack of explicit, grotesque detail, however. It is a thriller with plenty of action and enough twists to keep readers riveted to the last page.

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