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.

A great collection worth the read

matchup

 

What a wonderful way to discover series characters and their authors. MatchUp, edited by Lee Child (Simon and Schuster, June 13, 2017), is the International Thriller Writer’s sequel to the best-selling FaceOff. Both books team-up award-winning thriller writers and their series characters to solve life-and-death mysteries or bring killers to justice. If you’ve never met these characters before, here’s your chance.

And who better to introduce you to each of them than Lee Child, Mr. Jack Reacher himself.

Contributors include: Lee Coburn and Joe Pickett in “Honor & …” by Sandra Brown and C.J. Box; Tony Hill and Roy Grace in “Footloose” by Val McDermid and Peter James; Temperance Brennan and Jack Reacher in “Faking a Murderer” by Kathy Reichs and Lee Child; Jamie Fraser and Cotton Malone in “Past Prologue” by Diana Gabaldon and Steve Berry; Liz Sansborough and Rambo in “Rambo on Their Minds” by Gayle Lynds and David Morrell; Jeffrey Tolliver and Joe Pritchard in “Short Story” by Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta; Harper Connelly and Ty Hauck in “Dig Here” by Charlaine Harris and Andrew Gross; Regan Pescoli and Lucas Davenport in “Deserves to be Dead” by Lisa Jackson and John Sandford; Lucan Thorne and Lilliane Williams in “Midnight Flame” by Lara Adrian and Christopher Rice; Bennie Rosato and John Corey in “Getaway” by Lisa Scottoline and Nelson DeMille; and Ali Reynolds and Bravo Shaw in “Taking the Veil” by J.A. Jance and Eric Van Lustbader.

“Footloose”, although British, is my favorite. It’s filled with tons of wonderful puns, a foot-fetisher’s delight. Should DST Roy Grace, DCI Carol Jordan, and Dr. Tony Hill search for “an evil Elvis impersonator with homicidal tendencies”? Or a podophilic serial killer? Or should they look for both? Ten toes up for this one.

Liz Sansborough and Rambo in “Rambo on Their Minds” by Gayle Lynds and David Morrell is, in my humble opinion, the best-written tale in this collection, a taut thriller with a ticking time-bomb and an impossible task.

But all of the other stories are truly superb and well worth the read.

Several feature their authors’ usual supporting characters (i.e., John Sandford’s Johnson Johnson, Gayle Lynds’ Simon Childs, Lara Adrian’s Gabrielle, Michael Koryta’s Lincoln Perry, J. A. Jance’s Leeland Brooks). If you want a feel for what you’ll get in a Virgil Flowers novel, read “Deserves to be Dead”.

“Past Prologue” by Gabaldon and Berry is a fascinating time-travel story. “Dig Here” and “Midnight Flame” both have supernatural elements. “Short Story” piles complication atop complication. “Faking a Murderer” marries Jack Reacher’s military past with Temperance Brennan’s forensic acumen. “Honor &…” whacks-a-mole. And “Getaway” has a lovable dog that steals the show.

A great collection with new stories from some of the best writers in the business.

 

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.

 

Best New Series Character since Jack Reacher

Tom wood final hour

 

The Final Hour by Tom Wood (Berkley Books, August 2017) is the seventh novel in the author’s “Victor” series. Victor is a freelance paid assassin who claims he doesn’t care about anything but the job. That’s a lie, of course. But he’s so religious about protecting his privacy, he refuses to reveal any of his personal weaknesses to his victims. Or even to his friends and allies.

And certainly never to his enemies, of whom there are many. This is brought home to the reader in book 6, The Darkest Day, when Victor meets a female assassin who’s been hired to kill him.

Book seven begins with Victor confessing to a priest that he has killed many men. Plus he may have killed a female assassin, but he gave her an unprecedented opportunity to save herself if she’s strong enough. He returns later and kills the priest. Not only had British Intelligence put out a contract on him, but he had heard Victor’s confession and therefore had to die.

Imagine Tom Wood pitching the Victor novels to an agent or publisher with this elevator speech: I can’t tell you all about my protagonist because then I would have to kill you. Better you learn about him a little at a time as he reveals himself through story and dialog.

Spoiler alert: the female assassin does survive, despite incredible odds, and she becomes stronger. She and Victor become allies of sorts. More than that I can’t tell you without fear Victor will have to kill me.

I can tell you The Final Hour is marvelous. There are more complications than anyone has the right to survive, but Victor and Raven are both professionals and they know how to improvise.

This novel was so well written that I had to buy the previous six novels in the series. I was hooked on the best new series character since Jack Reacher, and I think you will be, too.

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.

Why so many serial killers?

 

“If every age gets the lunatics it deserves, then our age of anxiety deserves those who are in the grip of a compulsion.” Can’t Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions by Sharon Begley (Simon & Schuster, February 2017) hypothesizes that “compulsions are a response to anxiety, and modern life is filled with overwhelming anxiety.” Compulsions offer us an illusion of control in a world gone mad. “We cling to compulsions as if to a lifeline, for it is only by engaging in compulsions that we can drain enough of our anxiety to function.”

The idea behind Begley’s book was so compelling that I simply had to buy it. I’m a compulsive bookaholic who needs to know what’s inside every book (which may be an impossible task) or continuous wondering will drive me crazy.

That’s my excuse, anyway, for buying books, and I’m sticking to it. I’ve become a compulsive book hoarder. Books are more than a compulsion with me, they’re an obsession. And, as long as I have a book to read or a book to write, I don’t feel the need to kill anyone.

Is compulsion an anxiety disorder? Is it a personality disorder? An addiction? A syndrome? What’s the difference between Impulsive and Compulsive drives? Everyone feels anxious. Everyone is occasionally impulsive or compulsive. Should impulsive and compulsive behaviors be considered pathological only when they become so excessive they interfere with normal life functions?

Can we control our impulsive and compulsive behaviors? When do we know we need to?

Serial killers are addicts who get pleasure from risk-taking. They thrive on anxiety rather than feel a need to alleviate anxiety. They’re addicted to the pleasure they get from causing pain. They know their actions are wrong, but they can’t stop until they get caught. Seeing how long they can get away with doing something dangerous and forbidden is half the fun. They’re more concerned with what happens when they do something than when they don’t do something. They’re thrill addicts who need regular fixes or suffer the pains of withdrawal. Serial killing is addictive behavior, It isn’t compulsive.

Compulsive behavior, on the other hand, results from worries about what will happen if one does not possess something (knowledge, an object, followers on Facebook, love, money, drugs, bullets, soldiers, words in print, etc.) in sufficient quantity or quality to prevent disaster. It is the opposite of risk-taking. In one’s mind, possession is seen as the only thing that can prevent a future catastrophe from occurring.

Addictions can become compulsions only when worry about what may happen if you can’t continue the addictive (pleasurable) behavior takes over. You no longer get pleasure from risk-taking, but must take different risks to avoid pain caused by discontinuing the risky behavior. Like feeling compelled to kill in order to cover your tracks and not for pleasure. Like stockpiling books you’ll never have a chance to read.

When anxiety becomes fear, compulsions can become obsessive. You’re terrorized that unless you get things just right, absolutely perfect, calamity will happen. You, and only you can prevent bad things from happening, especially to ones you love. Only scrupulous adherence to a magical ritual (like buying certain books or writing them a certain way) will prevent disaster.

As a writer of crime-suspense thrillers, I enjoyed this book ‘s insights immensely. It was written in language a layman could understand, covered the gamut of compulsive behaviors, and tried to tie things together in a nice package. More importantly, though, this book taught me that when compulsions serve a useful function and contribute to a successful life rather than destroying it, being compulsive isn’t always bad.

Maybe that means I’m not as crazy as I thought.