The Fourth Monkey (A 4MK Thriller), by J. D. Barker

I’m not always a huge fan of books involving serial killers. They tend to be gorier than run-of-the-mill mysteries and the frequency of serial killers in fiction far outweighs their existence in the real world. But this gritty thriller set in Chicago took some amazing turns to keep me awake and reading far past my bedtime.

Homicide detective Sam Porter is called back to duty (on a leave that’s mysterious until later in the book) after a man steps in front of a city bus. The well-dressed dead man is found with a white box tied with black string, the type of box used by the Four Monkey Killer (4MK) who Porter has been hunting for several years. Inside: A human ear, always the first delivery 4MK makes. Next would have been eyes, then a tongue, then the body would be found with a note in the hand reading “Do No Evil”. It’s clear that the victim is alive during each of the removals.

Finding the killer dead creates a problem. The ear indicates that there’s a living victim hidden somewhere. ┬áThere’s no ID on the killer’s body. A pocket watch and a few coins the only clues, and in one of his pockets is a journal.

This sends Porter on a chase to find the victim, soon revealed to be a daughter of one of the city’s richest men. The narrative rolls through Porter’s pursuit, the victim’s perspective, and selections from the journal.

The journal may make this one of the most fun and interesting thrillers I’ve read in quite a while as the killer slowly reveals a childhood and family dynamic that is hilarious and horrifying all in one swing. Think Ozzie and Harriet with a dash of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The mystery in the book also involves at least two major twists that really set the mind spinning.

Ray Porter is a touching and thoughtful hero, and bright rapport with his partner helps lighten the atmosphere between some nail-biter (or squirm-inducing) scenes.

I’m still not a total convert to the serial killer trope, but this book definitely made me more open to it. A terrific book that kept me up into the wee hours waiting to see what came next.