4MK is a gruesome thriller

the fouth monkey

 

The four wise monkeys of ancient oriental myth — hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil, and do no evil — give the killer in The Fourth Monkey by J. D. Barker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 28, 2017) his name. The 4MK abducts women and sends an ear to the next of kin. Two days later, the victim’s extracted eyeballs arrive in the mail. Then the tongue. Two days after that, 4MK positions the victim’s mutilated body where easily discovered.

Hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil, do no evil. Those are the rules.

Detective Sam Porter, on bereavement leave following his wife’s tragic murder by a convenience store robber, receives a phone call from his partner. The Four Monkeys Killer was accidentally run down this morning  by a Chicago bus on his way to mail an ear of his latest victim to Arthur Talbot, one of the richest men in the city.

Sam’s chased the 4MK for five years. Seven dead girls he couldn’t save. Now it appears Talbot’s illegitimate daughter Emory will be 4MK’s next victim. The clock’s ticking as Sam assembles his task force and tries to find Emory before she dies of dehydration.

The killer’s diary found on the man hit by the bus tells what it’s like to be raised in a family of psychopaths. Barker effectively rotates POV among Porter, Emory, task force members, and the diary. The burning questions become: Is the diary real? Is the dead man the 4MK? Will Emory survive? What did Talbot do to warrant punishment by 4MK? Who killed Heather, Sam’s wife, and what will happen to him?

Set in metropolitan Chicago, the action delves into underground tunnels once used by bootleggers where thousands of rats thrive and Emory may be sequestered. Will she be eaten by rats, die of hydration, or have her eyes and tongue plucked out before 4MK is through with her?

Suspense builds as time runs out. Sam, who was neither able to protect his wife nor the seven previous 4MK victims, is desperate to reach Emory before she perishes.

The Fourth Monkey is as much a great horror novel as a mystery or thriller. Very highly recommended for readers with strong stomachs, insatiable curiosities, and time on their hands because they won’t be able to stop until the very end.

Supernatural Noir

the corpse and the girl

 

John Urbancik’s style is spellbinding. He’s a consummate craftsman. His writing seems like a cross between Raymond Chandler and Stephen King, with maybe a little Richard Thomas thrown in. Maybe some Lewis Carroll, too, to make it even more surreal.

The Corpse and the Girl from Miami (Dark Fluidity, 2017) is a mystery within a mystery. It’s noir and a supernatural thriller all in one.

And, despite everything else, it’s also a love story.

It’s set in Boston, MA, not in Miami. There are some displaced Floridians (Ofelia, Mr. Maker, Armando Luis Salazar) prowling the New England darkness one unusually stormy night, but they have no special love for Bean Town. Neither does The Corpse.

Imagine waking up in a cemetery with three bullet holes in your chest and no pulse. You have no remembrance of who shot you or why. You can’t even remember your name.

Piecing together his identity and solving the mystery of his murder turns into a herculean task for the dead man. There’s another walking dead man and a burgeoning cast of characters, some of whom may be aligned with powerful supernatural forces, to complicate the plot.

No one tells the truth. Ferreting out who killed whom, who is working for whom, and who’s a good person and who’s a bad person keeps the reader turning pages.

If you like a good mystery in an urban fantasy with supernatural elements, you’ll love The Corpse and the Girl from Miami.

Two Nights is a double treat

Two Nights Reichs

 

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs (Bantam Books, July 2017) introduces Sunday Night, a traumatized ex-cop on a mission to find a missing girl and save her life.

Although Sunnie Night allegedly lives in Charleston, SC (actually on Goat Island, just offshore), the first half of the story takes place in Chicago. As a Chicago native, I followed Sunny around the city waiting for the author to make an obvious mistake. She didn’t, which means either she was familiar with Chicago from book signings or she did her research.

I love the brilliant images Reichs creates: “Across Lake Shore Drive, the city hummed with all the notes of a midnight symphony.” Made me wonder if she didn’t listen to Gorden Jenkins’ Manhattan Tower while writing this novel.

The action, however, doesn’t remain in Chicago. Sunnie follows the alleged kidnappers to LA, to Washington, DC, and then to Louisville, KY.

Sunnie has a nasty a scar over one eye. Some asshole stabbed her in the eye with a knife, and she had to shoot and kill him in self-defense. That’s why she was forced to leave the Charleston PD: they wanted to stick her on permanent desk duty after she’d killed an unarmed citizen (he had no gun and the knife didn’t seem to count) and she wanted back on the streets but they wouldn’t let her back with only one eye.

So she quit.

Sunnie has other scars, too, though the others aren’t quite so visible. Scars from the military. Scars from her own childhood.

Oh, and did I mention that she’s unusually tall for a woman?

The title refers to Sunnie and her twin brother Gus — Sunday and August Night. Gus is black and Sunnie can pass for white. Although twins, they look as different as day and night. Their mother was a white immigrant from Ireland and their father was an African-American preacherman. There are other meanings to the title, but you’ll need to read the novel to learn what they might be.

Sometimes the tension becomes so taut it’s almost painful, as if there’s literally a ticking timebomb that will explode any minute now. The author doubles the tension by running parallel mysteries that threaten to intersect: the current mystery Sunnie and Gus must unravel and the mystery of what happened to them as children.

Once I started reading, I couldn’t put the book down. Highly recommended for mystery and thriller lovers.

 

Who are the Halloween Children?

 

Halloween Children cover

The Halloween Children by Brian James Freeman and Norman Prentiss (Random House Hydra, June 2017) works by building suspense, by gradually increasing the sense of impending dread. Readers know from the very first page that something went terribly wrong Halloween night and lots of children either killed or were killed. Dread builds as you discover how really weird and totally dis-functional everyone in the entire Stillbrook apartment complex — especially the entire Naylor family — has become. You know all hell is about to break loose, and you can’t wait for it to happen. But, like waiting for Halloween or for Christmas, wait you must.

Good horror builds expectations. There are a lot of little boos that set the scene, but you know right from the get-go that the big fright comes on Halloween. Everything else is a warm-up or a red-herring.

“I think the environment in our apartment complex had everything to do with what happened,” Harris Naylor admits. “Not just our management policies and our neighbors, but maybe even the issues that had been swimming within our own family.”

Is the apartment complex haunted? Just when you think it is, a logical explanation pops up. But then something else weird happens, and the suspense builds until you’re sure the place is haunted by evil spirits.

Or maybe by crazy people: not just the children but adults, too.

Harris again hits the nail on the head: “If a place is going to be haunted, it’s more likely to be an apartment building, since there’s a high turnaround in tenants and folks from a variety of backgrounds will bring different quirks and neuroses and illnesses with them. Going with the odds, an apartment building simply has more opportunities for crazy, haunted people to live there.”

Or die there.

Heh heh.

So who are the Halloween Children really? Mattie and Amber? Ghosts? Evil spirits?

Read the novel and see with your own eyes.

Heh heh.

Give Cleaved a read

cleaved

 

Cleaved: Grafton County Series, book 2 (Tirgearr Publishing, May 2017) is Sue Coletta’s sequel to Marred, a book I loved. Coletta continues to develop as a crime writer and she now has three novels and numerous short stories in print.

I’m happy to see deputy Frankie Campanelli return in the sequel to Marred, along with deputies Ben and Bradley. There’s plenty of Frankie’s snarky dialog to ease the tension when everything’s going to hell in a hand-basket. Also present are Nico and Sage’s pups, Colt and Ruger. Plus their infant son Noah plays an important part.

I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment by revealing the plot. Suffice it to say, there are gruesome murders galore in Grafton County. I’m sure Sue Grafton would approve of murders in a county named after her.

As in all of her novels, Coletta blends forensic science with fast-paced thrills. If you like a good mystery, give Cleaved a read.

The Secret Life of Souls

secret-life-of-souls-ketchum

 

I love novels written in present tense. It gives such immediacy to the action that you feel you’re right there in the middle of things.

The Secret Life of Souls by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee (Pegasus Books, November 2016) is written entirely in present tense and frequently switches POV between Delia Cross, her twin brother Robbie, their mother Patricia, their father Bart, their agent Roman, and their dog Caity. You are actually inside their heads, You see through their eyes, You feel what they feel. For brief periods of time, you become—actually are—them.

You learn what it’s like to share memories and thoughts with another person.

And that’s what makes this story so wonderful. Oh, sure, there’s a lovable urchin on the brink off stardom (Delia), an equally-lovable mutt (Caity), abominable parents (Pat and Bart), an unscrupulous agent (Roman), and even a suspicion of the supernatural at work. It’s a complicated story about a dysfunctional family and a special kind of love that endures despite everything that happens.

The pacing is superb. The first twenty pages are a bit slow-going compared to the rest of the novel. But once bad things start happening, it’s a non-stop roller-coaster ride all the way to the end.

 

Angels Versus Angels

lostness

When fallen angels live amongst humans, there’s always hell to pay.

I’ve been a fan of Billie Sue Mosiman’s stories since the 1980s, and LOSTNESS (January 2017) is no exception. A sequel to BANISHED and ANGELIQUE, this tale is set in 1940 with many of the same characters from BANISHED. Angelique returns, still in a child’s body. Nisroc (Nick) travels in Europe with Jody, the midget. Henry, the shape-shifter, is back, too. But fascinating new characters are introduced in LOSTNESS—Ladina, Jules, Tina, Will, Graham, Duma, Monty—to complicate the storyline. The great battle between angels—between the fallen and the unfallen—is about to begin.

My only gripes with the novel are the mention of the CIA and a few minor things a good copy editor would have corrected. The Central Intelligence Agency didn’t exist in 1940. The closest thing was the FBI, or Military Intelligence, or possibly the OSS.

I love Mosiman’s images of angels allowing their wings to expand. I love being inside Jules’ head when she dream-travels.

Once again, Mosiman shows there’s more in heaven and earth than dreamt in our philosophies.