Dracul, by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker

Eight stars

There are surely many who have wondered where Bram Stoker got his idea for Dracula. After creating an interesting sequel to his ancestor’s popular book, Dacre Stoker decided to team up with J.D. Barker to pen this prequel of sorts, though its exploration is less of Prince/Count Dracula than of a younger Bram Stoker. It is here that the seeds of all things ghoulish germinated, or so the reader is led to believe. Bram Stoker was quite a sickly child, being bedridden for the first number of years of his life. The family’s nanny, Nanna Ellen, did all that she could to help, though caring for many children kept her occupied. It was only when Bram’s uncle came to bleed him with leeches that things took an interesting turn. At that time, Nanna Ellen also visited her young charge and, by all of Bram’s accounts, undertook a unique form of medicinal care through a small bite along his arm. Soon thereafter, Bram was healed, though to everyone it was thought that the leeches did the job. Upwardly mobile, Bram and his sister, Matilda, begin exploring their environs in the Irish countryside, which includes a closer examination of Nanna Ellen. What they discover serves to shock and concern them, for she acts in such a unique manner. When she disappears one day, Bram and Matilda can only surmise that something extremely mysterious is going on and they might have witnessed a key that relates to her disappearance. Moving forward more than a dozen years, Bram and Matilda are again witnesses to some odd happenings, both related to their nanny and some other folks from the town. Could the mysteries they uncovered as children be back again, in new and curious forms? As they press to understand what is going on, they discover the world of vampires and the un-dead, a realm that is highly dangerous for adults and children alike. However, nothing has prepared them for what is to come, or the residue it will have on their lives. Contrasted nicely with a more ‘modern’ Bram Stoker, who struggles with some additional demons, Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker instil a significant chill into the narrative that is perfect for fans of the Dracula novel. Highly recommended, especially during the haunting month of October, when ghosts and ghouls begin to emerge!

I was so very excited to learn of this book and awaited its publication so that I could add it to my October holiday reading list. I have some experience with Barker’s work and have come to admire Dacre Stoker, as he penned that aforementioned sequel to the extremely popular Dracula. Now, it’s time to look back and allow these two authors to paint some interesting pictures for the reader, taking their own liberties with Bram Stoker and his life, though they make clear that some of their story is based on his writings and early journals. The authors handle Bram Stoker in a very interesting light here, even more interestingly than Dacre did his ancestor in the Dracula sequel. Bram is seen not only as a precocious young boy, but one who is driven to understanding the mysteries of the world, particularly when oddities pop up around him. The reader will see his progression throughout the story, both in the ‘journal format’ and in his elder form, where he surely undergoes many events that shaped him before writing his novel about the prince from Transylvania. The attentive reader will see this progression and the crumbs of information in this text that relate to the best known work, utilizing many interesting themes and ideas. Many of the other characters, who play strong roles as well as minor narrative flavouring, must also receive great recognition, as their presence keeps the reader enthralled until the final pages. The narrative is wonderfully strong and filled with nuggets of wonderful speculation which, through to the authors’ note at the end, can be left to hang in the air, wondering how much was real. Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker dispel much of the fiction versus fact in their note at the end, as well as exploring how much of Dracula itself was based on real happenings, as opposed to a fictional account of a monster from history. While the use of journals and clippings may not be to everyone’s liking, it serves a wonderful purpose and is a true adage to Bram’s original work, deserving praise for that writing format. At this time of ghouls and monsters, this story hit the spot and will surely make it onto my annual reading list.

Kudos, Messrs. Stoker and Barker, for such an intense story. I am eager to see if you two will work together again, as this was surely a strong collaborative effort.

This books fulfils Topic #6: A Book About the Current Equinox, for the Equinox #5 Reading Challenge.

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

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The Fifth to Die (4MK Thriller #2), by J.D. Barker

Eight stars

After his stunning series debut, talk about J.D. Barker and his 4MK thriller has many eager to get their hands on the next novel. Sam Porter is still trying to come to terms with the Four Monkey Killer, a.k.a. Anson Bishop, who rocked Chicago before he slipped through the fingers of authorities. With his own wife also dead, Porter had the case wrestled from him by the FBI without even a consultation with the seasoned detective. Now, in the dead of a Chicago winter, Ella Reynolds has gone missing. Missing Children is alerted and works alongside Chicago Metro until a body is found under the ice. The biggest problem? The water’s been solid for months and the body went missing only a few weeks ago. The buzz says that Bishop is back, but Porter cannot be sure, thinking that the killings are too different, particularly when the teen’s body is soaked in salt water. While Porter goes on a manhunt to find Bishop, he is left to follow a single lead and a hint that Bishop’s mother might hold the key to it all. When more teenage girls go missing, Metro rush to piece it all together, seeing some parallels to the previous 4MK deaths, though the oddity of the bodies leaves them baffled. Within the killer’s lair, the reader learns about an odd fascination with visions, which could be the key the authorities need to bring things together. As Barker pushes an interesting subplot with an old Bishop journal, the story takes on a new and bone-chilling perspective, while the bodies continue to mount. Barker does a sensational job of luring the reader in and finding new ways to create a stellar thriller. Perfect for those who loved the debut novel and readers who enjoy dark crime thrillers.

Barker’s return has been much anticipated and the wait can said to be justified. In a story equally as thrilling, the reader is taken on another journey down to the depths of a killer’s psyche and through some of the triggers that might have helped shape the man Anson Bishop became. The cast of characters is large, which can cause confusion, though those who are able to keep names and plots straight will revel in the detail used throughout the piece. Detective Same Porter definitely makes his mark in this book, though the dilution of storylines has him serving on but a part of the larger narrative. Bishop’s presence, both in the current story and through a detailed backstory in the form of journal entries, enriches the narrative and adds a dark flavour that Barker developed in the opening novel. The reader can better understand the man, while also being baffled by this new killer who has a penchant for teenage girls. The story is longer, but has also been broken into scores of chapters, making the narrative move at a clipped pace. Barker effectively breaks down not only the perspective, but a short timeline, to give the reader a true bang for their buck. Events flow wonderfully, though there is always a sense of panic, even over the short time period needed from first discovery until gruesome finale. Barker is an author not to be missed, as he haunts the reader with his style and skill, a sense that lingers long after the final paragraph.

Kudos, Mr. Barker, for another wonderful piece of work. I am eager to read more of your work, both in this series and in a collaborative effort with the distant relative of the author who honed thrill writing as a genre.

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

The Fourth Monkey (4MK#1), by J.D. Barker

Nine stars

In this captivating series debut, J. D. Barker pulls the reader into the depths of a serial killer’s mind and how a spark in youth can erupt into a wildfire of indifference. Chicago Homicide Detective Sam Porter has been working to capture the Four Monkey Killer for over five years, watching as the victim count mounts with minimal clues, saving the severed pieces sent in boxes. When called to the scene of an early morning pedestrian-vehicle accident, Porter is baffled as to why he would be involved. What awaits him is perhaps the most curious and yet relieving scene; apparently the Four Monkey Killer has been neutralized after being launched through the air. Within a box like all the others, an ear sits inside and the address of a prominent real estate mogul penned on the label. Additionally, there is a diary that recounts some of the early thoughts of the killer There is little time for victory dances, as Porter must locate the victim before it’s too late. Taking time to read the diary, Porter learns that the writing depicts a man remembering his childhood and how one summer day, his peaceful life was rocked when he discovered the depravity his parents found entertaining. The reader collects much of the backstory here as the story evolves and a neighbourly indiscretion has severe consequences. With the victim completely isolated, Emory Conners tries to reason with herself to learn why she has been taken and what awaits her. Is there someone there, bantering with her, or has the terror led her to hallucinate at the worst possible moment? Just as Porter thinks he has it all figured out, the case turns on its head and the entire foundation comes crumbling down. Will the Four Monkey Killer have the final laugh in his macabre game of monkey and… zookeeper? Is Emory the final victim, or are there more in other locations, waiting to be slain as well? Barker spins a sadistic, but enthralling, story here and keeps the reader wondering until the very last page. He refuses to tie things off entirely, even at that point, paving the way for a sequel that will be much anticipated. Perfect for those who can handle some psychopathy with their thrill reading.

I have heard much about this book over the last while, as it fills my Goodreads review emails. I am happy to have taken the plunge and have already signed myself up to read and review the sequel. Barker does much in this first novel, entertaining and educating the reader on many levels. The split narrative forces the reader to keep up with three essential and interconnected pieces, while also following the progression of the individual storylines. Porter may seem like a well-adjusted detective, but he has much in his own life that has him unsettled, which only goes to thicken the plot and the development the reader finds herein. The story itself, based loosely on an expansion of the popular “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys from Chinese lore, looks to the lesser known “do no evil”, which serves as the fourth monkey. Barker explains the history while developing a gut-wrenching narrative to tie it all together. The plot itself is not overly unique, but the way it is expressed individualises the story nicely, which leaving much open for interpretation. It is one of the better psychological thrillers I have read and I can only hope that Barker will keep the series going, whether Sam Porter remains in the protagonist’s chair after the sequel or not. There is much found herein that leads the reader to see much potential and I can only hope that fans will stumble upon this book in short order and discover that the hype is justified.

Kudos, Mr. Barker for this wonderful debut. I am eager to see what else you have in store in the coming novels.