Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hear no evil. See no evil....

The Fourth Monkey

J.D. Barker


Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 

Pub Dater: June 27, 2017

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

2017 appears to be the year of the suspense thriller. There has already been a number of quality ones out there and a few more of them usually show up during the summer. The term "Summer Read" seems to be tailor made for the mystery and suspense audience. For the most part, they are diverting and fun reads for the beach but occasionally a few goes past the quick read and amazes us with their combination of mystery, psychological suspense and even a dose of horror. The first one to wow me this year was Final Girls by Riley Sager. And now dead on its heels is The Fourth Monkey by J. D. Barker

The Fourth Monkey is one of those books that dares you to read it in one sitting. The suspense rarely lets up and there are a pair of very interesting and troubled protagonists that keep our interest. It is a serial killer novel that comes at a time when the sub-genre seems to be getting thin and predictable. Barker's novel manages to take a number of well worn ideas, such as the detective and killer duel of minds and the race against time to save the victim. Yet the authors is able to keep it interesting and fresh.

Homicide detective Sam Porter is recovering from the death of his wife but is pulled back to work when a six year old serial killer case that he has been on from the beginning seems to be coming to a head. The Four Monkey Killer (4MK as the officers not-so-affectionately call him) has been hit and killed by a bus. How do they know it is him when no one knows his identity? He had in his procession when he died a box with his victim's ear in it, signifying the first monkey "Hear no evil", and a diary proclaiming him to be that killer. 4MK has killed a number of young girls in the past years. Since he mailed boxes with bodies parts in them before he finally kills them, Porter surmises there is one more victim who is still alive. Sam Porter and his partner Nash now needs to find her with only a few clues and the killer's diary to guide them.

And this is where it gets interesting. We follow the tracks of the detective as they uncover each clue. There are plenty of red herrings and twists to entertain even the most jaded mystery fan. However, in alternating chapters we read the diary in which 4MK essentially tells us about his childhood and his origins giving us another thriller and mystery as it goes along. We know these two stories will come together at some point and the way it happens is the intricate web that the author weaves. The killer and detective appear to be continuing their battle of wits even beyond the grave as the diary haunts Porter and brings up a few ghosts of his own.

This is a hardcore cop and killer tale and one of the best I have read in a long time. I caught a few of the surprises and missed a few more which is good because it kept me guessing. Yet Sam Porter is the character that keeps the novel from just being a who-dunnit puzzle. He is tough and determined but vulnerable to the point you wonder if he will keep it together. 4MK is also a vital protagonist and the gimmick of using his diary to egg on and tease Porter works so well I stopped thinking of it as a gimmick especially since 4MK's back story is as riveting as the central plot. We also never lose the tension of the race against time which is often so important in books like this. J.D. Barker wrote a monster of a serial killer story and it may be hard to top it. But my money is on Barker to do so in his very promising career. He has the skills and the imagination to continue with a string of great thrillers. For right now, The Fourth Monkey will more than suffice.

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