The Fifth to Die by J.D. Barker - book review: Insanely entertaining and utterly addictive

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When the body of a teenage girl is found in the freezing waters of a park lagoon, the Chicago newspapers are convinced that she is another victim of a notorious serial killer.

But veteran police detective Sam Porter – a man on a mission to find the evil genius who has evaded capture for years – believes this death is the work of a new but equally dangerous murderer.

Turn up the lights and try not to read alone because J.D. Barker is back with the second instalment of his bone-chilling, ingenious and gut-wrenching crime thriller series centred on the hunt for the terrifying Four Monkey Killer, better known as 4MK, a slippery snake murderer whose speciality is sadistic mind games.

The Fifth to Die is the gripping follow-up to last year’s The Fourth Monkey and comes from an author with a track record for graphic horror. A finalist for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Debut Novel, J.D. Barker’s creepy, witchcraft extravaganza Forsaken won him worldwide acclaim and a contract to co-author a prequel to Dracula by the Stoker family.

And this remarkable US writer is creating more waves on both sides of the Atlantic with his superbly plotted, edge-of-the-seat 4MK thrillers, packed with devilish twists, dark humour and blood-curdling insights into a crazy killer’s mind.

In the midst of one of the worst winters Chicago has seen in years, the body of missing teenager Ella Reynolds is discovered under the frozen waters of Jackson Park Lagoon. The 15-year-old has been missing for three weeks but the lake froze over three months ago.

But how did she get there and, just as baffling, why is she wearing the clothes of another girl, 17-year-old Lili Davies, who has been missing for less than two days?

Detective Sam Porter and his team, who have been withdrawn from the hunt for Anson Bishop, the Four Monkey Killer, by the FBI, are brought in to investigate. Many people in Chicago think Bishop has struck again but Porter knows differently. The deaths are too different, there’s a new killer on the loose.

While the police try to make sense of the quickly developing case, Porter is distracted. He is still haunted by Bishop and secretly continues his pursuit of him. His only leads are a picture of a female prisoner, and a note from Bishop saying ‘Help me find my mother. I think it’s time she and I talked.’

When his boss finds out about Porter’s activities, he is suspended, leaving his partners Clair and Nash to continue the search for the new killer alone.

As more girls go missing and the police team race to stop the body count rising, Porter heads off to New Orleans to track down Bishop’s mother. But before long, he stumbles into a world darker than he could have possibly imagined, and discovers that the only place scarier than the mind of a serial killer is the mind of the mother who raised him.

Barker is such a skilled and exciting writer, delivering a chilling, slow-build thriller, a final, jaw-dropping twist, and a cliffhanger ending that leaves readers dangling precariously by their fingertips.

Insanely entertaining and utterly addictive, this is a series to relish… and the last chapter promises to be one of the reading treats of 2019.

(HQ, paperback, £8.99)