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

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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.