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.

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.


Give Cleaved a read



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.

A Perfect Model for Whodunit Writers




Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia (Emily Bestler Books/Atria Books, January 2017) should be subtitled “The Curse of MacBeth.”

Wabash County Sheriff Del Goodman investigates the tragic murder of Hattie Hoffman in rural southern Minnesota. Hattie, the daughter of Del’s closest friend, wanted to be an actress and had starred in a high school production of MacBeth the night she was murdered. When Hattie’s mutilated body is discovered the day after the play opens at the high school, the town of Pine Valley—a small farming community where everyone knows everyone else—is mortified. Everyone is suspect and anyone could be the murderer. Who killed Hattie Hoffman and why? The whole town wants to know and so does the reader.

Told in flashbacks from multiple points of view, the answer unfolds over the course of Hattie’s senior year at Pine Valley High. Literature geeks will love the literary references to Jane Austen novels and Thomas Pynchon and Tim O’Brien from Hattie’s Advanced AP Senior English class, taught by Peter Lund. As we watch the forbidden relationship between Lund and Hattie develop, we begin to piece together possible scenarios for murder.

Mejia fleshes out her characters well, making each come alive. We become silent voyeurs peeking into the windows of tortured souls not so different from our own. Hattie and Del and Peter become us, and we become them.

This story is a cautionary tale of what might happen when, after acting parts to please others for most of one’s life, one decides to be true to one’s own self. Telling the truth can be liberating, yes; but it can also prove deadly. The truth isn’t always the best policy, nor does it always set you free.

This story is also an expertly-crafted whodunit, a mystery that grips the reader and won’t let go. Every crime writer should study this novel to see how a whodunit should be done.

Brilliantly plotted, perfectly executed, this novel rates 5 1/2 stars.

Some of my best friends are characters

Sledgehammer cover (series)

Sledgehammer is Book 8 in my Instruments of Death series of suspense thrillers from the Gordian Knot imprint of Crossroad Press. I like Sledgehammer a lot, and I think you’ll like Sledgehammer, too. You don’t have to read the other 7 novels first. You can start anywhere in the series and have a good read.

But once you read Sledgehammer I hope you’re hooked. Even as the author, I found myself wanting to go back to earlier novels because the characters have developed such interesting interrelationships.

Jackhammer is the next novel in this series. By the time one novel sees print, I’ve already finished the first drafts of several more novels. What I love about reading and writing is that you get to meet such interesting fictional people and travel to other locales and even other worlds and other dimensions. But West Riverdale is one of my favorite places, and Troy, Andy, Connie, Linda, Sally, Rat, and George have become some of my best friends.

For Kindle:  http://www.amazon.com/Sledgehammer-Instruments-Death-Book-8-ebook/dp/B01DQYO2PA/


For Nook or e-reader:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sledgehammer-paul-dale-anderson/1123620570?ean=2940157922009


Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon

Try Not to Breathe: A Novel by Holly Seddon (Ballantine, February 2016)is an intriguing British mystery by an experienced journalist but a first-time novelist.

Alex Dale, a thirty-year-old freelance journalist and a closet alcoholic, begins research for a minor filler-story on long-term-care patients in the same hospital ward where Alex’s deceased mother was once an Alzheimer’s patient. Some of the patients in Bramble Ward, although not-legally brain-dead, have their bodies kept alive only by machines and require constant medical care. A few are trauma victims whose badly-beaten bodies eventually regained limited function but their minds still remain seemingly unresponsive. Alex discovers one of those unresponsive patients is thirty-year-old Amy Stephenson, a former classmate from the same grammar school Alex attended fifteen years ago. Then-fifteen-year-old Amy was abducted, brutalized, and left for dead.

Alex decides to do a major feature story on Amy. Amy isn’t in a coma. She can breathe on her own. Brain scans indicate parts of Amy’s brain are actively processing information. But she can’t communicate. It’s as if her mind is trapped inside of a paralyzed body. She can’t move, can’t speak. Amy’s assailant was never caught because Amy couldn’t tell anyone who had attacked her.

I’m giving Try Not to Breathe five stars, my highest recommendation, not because the writing is spectacular or the plot brilliantly original. It rates five stars because the author makes the characters come alive. The reader desperately hopes Alex, Jacob, Tom, Matt, and Amy can overcome their human frailties, find ways to adapt to their present circumstances, and emerge happy and whole from the deep holes each of the characters has dug for herself or himself. Life is complicated, and family life often becomes unbearably complex and complicated.

Seddon alternates POV between each of the major characters, allowing the reader brief glimpses into the reasoning processes that comprise a backstory that spans fifteen years. As a cognitive neuroscientist and medical researcher, I appreciated the mention of fMRIs and their importance to mapping brain function. The mystery of who did what to whom and when kept me reading all the way to the end.

The Passenger is an entertaining thrill ride

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster, March 2016) is a first person narrative by Tanya Dubois aka Jo aka Tanya Pitts aka Jane Green aka Amelia Keen aka Debra Maze. Tanya/Amelia is on the run after her husband Frank Dubois dies. Did Tanya kill Frank? Or was Frank’s death an accident? One mystery leads to yet another as Tanya flees from lie after lie, life after life.

Tanya meets Blue in a bar in Austin, TX. When Mr. Oliver sends 2 men to question or kill Tanya, Blue and Tanya kill the men and escape. They begin visiting funeral homes to steal identities of deceased women. When Blue tells Tanya she’s killed her abusive husband, Jack, Tanya helps Blue bury the body. Blue suggests, since they can’t find a suitable cadaver look-alike, they simply switch identities. Tanya becomes Debra Maze, Blue’s real name, and Blue becomes Amelia Keen.

Tanya seems most at home in a bar. As she moves from town to town, changing identities on the fly, she keeps meeting men in bars. From Austin she flees to Recluse, Wyoming, where she kills the real Jack Reed in self-defense. She flees Recluse for upstate New York.

I won’t tell you Tanya’s real name. I won’t tell you about Ryan nor Mr. Oliver nor why Tanya went on the run in the first place. I don’t want to spoil the mystery.

I will mention Dominick because he’s a recurring figure in Tanya’s life. He’s the one genuinely nice and honest guy in her life, but he’s a cop and he suspects she’s not whom she claims to be and that she might be a wanted murderer.

The Passenger is a well-written mystery story with a compellingly strong female character who grows on the reader as complication after complication screws up Tanya’s life even more. There are so many wonderful twists and turns in this book that you won’t stop reading until you have read all of the story. Despite all of the foreshadowings, the ending comes as a real surprise.

My hat’s off to Lisa Lutz for an entertaining thrill-ride that made me hold onto my seat.