A Caller’s Game, by J.D. Barker

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, J.D. Barker, and Hampton Creek Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

J.D. Barker is back with another explosive psychological thriller that mixes the sass some present as an emotional wall with the wily planning of someone scorned. In his latest novel, Barker turns a sarcastic radio shock jock into a piece on a sadistic chess board in A Caller’s Game. What seems to be a caller seeking their moment of fame soon turns deadly as New York City is the playground for someone’s vendetta for a past wrong. Readers will find themselves unable to put the book down, surely the literary version of ‘don’t touch that dial!’.

Jordan Briggs is a popular morning radio host with her own program on SiriusXM. Use the satellite airwaves, she is able to reach a larger audience across the country and uses her soapbox quite effectively. Jordan’s quick to cut people off and make it her point. When a caller asks that she help him out with a small game, she agrees, if only to pass the time. Her choice of taxi cab over Uber soon shows that this is anything but an innocent request, as the famed yellow cabs behind blowing up around the intersections of the studio. ‘Bernie’, as he calls himself, has a plan and nothing is going to stop him, though he places the blame solely at Jordan’s feet.

NYPD Homicide Detective Cole Hundley happens to be in the area and was following Jordan for another reason. Hundley is pulled into the middle of this game and finds himself trying to locate the elusive Bernie while limiting any future carnage. It would seem that Bernie has a plan and nothing is going to impede him from it, even as Hundley seeks to stop the body count.

While Jordan tries to keep Bernie at bay, new evidence emerges to tie her to this reckless caller. It all comes back to a prank that Jordan ran at the start of her career; one in which a woman did something on a dare and ended up paying a price, leaving many dead in her wake. While Bernie works on destroying Jordan for that, Detective Hundley must find the man and stop him before he can continue the rampage.

As fires burn and listeners tune in, what was once a simple call-in show seeking to elicit shock value has become the platform for murder, with no one safe from harm. Jordan Briggs will come face to face with how her treatment of others can have dire consequences and leave her with nothing, much like she’s done for those who are forgotten as soon as their entertainment value wanes!

It appears to me as though J.D. Barker has quite the handle on his writing, able to lure readers in with whatever he has on the go. His solo work, as well as collaborative efforts, always turn out to be highly captivating and leaves evetoyne wanting a little more. Barker admits to writing ‘literary popcorn’ and I am pleased to devour this snack any time I am able.

Sharing the protagonist spotlight, Jordan Briggs and Cole Hundley do well in their role. Both have some intriguing backstory that comes out as the piece progresses, as well as a slice of character development that evolves as the narrative picks up its pace. The struggles they have are intertwined, though their usually work in tandem, both seek to limit the blowback that Bernie has over the situation. Readers will feel their presence in competing first-person narratives, which enrich the overall story experience.

Barker carefully crafts a strong collection of supporting characters as well, eager to give the reader new perspectives on this most macabre situation. Offering up angles to both the smaller and major plots, Barker effectively finds ways to keep the reader interested in even the most minute development through the eyes of those who are living them.

The story was a winner from the beginning, pulling me in and never letting me catch my breath. The premise is strong and the embedded twists keep the reader from guessing too much at once. There’s a lot to explore in this piece and Barker provides a slow and intense rollout of where things are headed, all without allowing anyone to peek under the curtain. With a strong narrative told from two perspectives, Barker keeps the reader informed of the larger picture throughout. Short chapters tease effectively and keep the reader forging ahead to discover the twists that await them. I always enjoy J.D. Barker’s work and this standalone has me begging for more. Crisp writing complements a strong plot and will surely have those new to Barker’s realm rushing for more.

Kudos, Mr. Barker, for another winner. I cannot say enough about this piece and hope others feel the same when they have the opportunity to read it for themselves.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons