The Fourth Monkey by J D Barker

June 29, 2017

For over five years, the Four Monkey Killer has terrorized the residents of Chicago. When his body is found, the police quickly realize he was on his way to deliver one final message, one which proves he has taken another victim who may still be alive.

As the lead investigator on the 4MK task force, Detective Sam Porter knows even in death, the killer is far from finished. When he discovers a personal diary in the jacket pocket of the body, Porter finds himself caught up in the mind of a psychopath, unraveling a twisted history in hopes of finding one last girl, all while struggling with personal demons of his own.

With only a handful of clues, the elusive killer’s identity remains a mystery. Time is running out and the Four Monkey Killer taunts from beyond the grave in this masterfully written fast-paced thriller.

A shift of genre and a change of gears this week, from historical fantasy to some crime fiction. J D Barker’s latest, The Fourth Monkey, promises an edge of the seat thriller with the darkest of hearts. A notoriously elusive killer has finally died after managing to evade capture for years. The only problem? His most recent victim remains missing and, by the killer’s own twisted set of rules, there is a chance that the young woman in question could still be alive. Can the Chicago police department discover her whereabouts before it is too late?

Sam Porter is exactly the sort of protagonist that works well in a dark thriller like this. Recovering from a personal tragedy, he is all but broken. The only thing keeping him functioning, and continuing to push forward, is the burning desire for answers. For years, he has been consumed by the mystery of the Four Monkey Killer. Porter is the poster child of grim determination, it just isn’t him to walk away from an unsolved crime. He is backed up by a similarly resolute group of detectives, more a surrogate family than colleagues. The easy camaraderie they share highlights just how important they are to one another.

Acting as a counterpoint to Porter’s determination is the cunning of his quarry. One of the many highlights of the novel is the way Barker explores the corrupt morality of the Four Monkey Killer (4MK). The narrative alternates between Porter’s search for the killer and chapters that reveal 4MK’s formative years. The killer’s childhood is revealed in the form of a diary that Porter uncovers. The reader gets to discover 4MK’s genesis at the same time as Porter does. These key moments in the killer’s past that have shaped this predator provide genuine insight into what makes 4MK tick. It is a pleasure to discover a villain that is so well executed, excuse the pun.

Scattered throughout the story, there are also brief chapters that detail the fate of our killer’s latest victim. Barker really ramps up the tension in each of these little vignettes. I’ll avoid spoilers, but suffice to say, I found these scenes particularly harrowing. I should stress I mean this as the highest compliment. It is always impressive when an author manages to elicit that kind of reaction.

The ongoing game of cat and mouse between Porter and 4MK is fascinating to follow. Like all the best literary villains 4MK needs an opponent or all the scheming and meticulous planning is for naught. This is all just an elaborate battle of wits and 4MK has decided that Porter is the only person he is prepared to face off against. 4MK is devious but his cunning is matched by Porter’s resolve. I think I always worry a bit where it comes to novels featuring serial killers. There is a danger that any plot will descend into something the feels outlandish and over the top. The good news is that J.D. Barker deftly side steps this potential pitfall and creates a story that feels realistic and all the more creepy because of it. Porter’s actions and reactions to 4MK’s cruel mind games are perfectly gauged.

Good news, a quick internet search reveals that the television and film rights to The Fourth Monkey have already been sold. I’m glad to hear it, this is the sort of fiction that will transfer to the big (or small) screen well. I’m already working on my casting wish list right now. The toughest choice? Who should play 4MK? I have some ideas but I’m not sharing them right now. I wouldn’t wish to bias your own thoughts on the matter.

Sitting somewhere between Se7en, The Silence of the Lambs and Saw The Fourth Monkey is a wonderfully macabre affair.  The insight into 4MK and his childhood is riveting, almost voyeuristic in nature. It is only when you get the story’s end that you realise J D Barker has been hiding some of the biggest clues in plain sight. He is a deliciously sneaky sort. There is also a sinister tone that acts as a perfect counterpoint to all these puzzles. There are some darker than dark moments. Barker has real skill when it comes to describing the visceral, graphic nature of 4MK’s gory crimes. Put it this way, I am a horror fan but if this is the sort of thing that is in J D Barker’s head, I have absolutely no desire to ever meet him. Seriously dude, some of that stuff is messed up. I loved it.

Back in 2007 David Fincher directed a film called Zodiac and it had a score by David Shire. It is a subtle, self-contained collection of music that I think fits rather well with the tone of The Fourth Monkey. I can only imagine serial killers need to be both subtle and self-contained to ensure they can avoid getting caught. I’d suggest it is worthwhile checking the album out if, like me, listening to music while reading is your thing. Shire’s music is the ideal companion piece.

The Fourth Monkey is published by HQ and is available now. Highly recommended.

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