The Fourth Monkey

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Written by JD Barker — We all know the proverb of the three wise monkeys – ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’. But Chicago’s Fourth Monkey Killer, or 4MK as he has become to be known, has added a final instruction: ‘Do no evil’.

It took the Chicago PD task force a little while to understand his motivation. When the veteran detective Sam Porter saw the first severed ear, delivered in a white box tied neatly with black string, his cop smarts told him that a serial killer was probably at work. Delivery of the eyes, and then the tongue, in identical white boxes confirmed it. The first corpse arrived a few days later with a sign proclaiming do no evil. That was a few years and several victims back. It was only after the first three victims that Porter and his colleagues realised the deceased were innocent in the usual sense, and that their only crime was to be related to a person 4MK considered to be guilty of doing evil.

The murders have been sporadic. There is a gap between them just long enough for the taskforce to be disbanded. The crimes follow the same ghoulish pattern that is so indicative of a serial killer, but what has been missing is the serial killer’s need for recognition. So far, he or she has avoided baiting the police or sending clues to the media. All that is about to change, and what’s more, 4MK is going to do it from beyond the grave.

Porter gets a call from his partner Nash. A man has been run over by a bus in downtown Chicago. Witness reports suggest it was more likely suicide than accident. So far so mundane, but this man is carrying a little white box tied up neatly with black string… The box was to be posted to Arthur Talbot, a businessman with interests in banking and property development. On the dead man’s body is a diary, and a cursory examination suggests it belongs to 4MK.

Author JD Barker sets his novel up very well. We are thrown into the action straight away, and we learn about 4MK gradually through the chapters. His history of serial killing in Chicago is portioned out sparingly, a little at a time, in a way that keeps things interesting. The chapters which are excerpts from the killer’s diary reveal his early life and explain his obsession with doing no evil. Barker’s first novel was the horror story Forsaken, and in The Fourth Monkey our killer’s induction into his trade is graphic, certainly more so than in most thrillers.

The major let-down is the police characters. Porter is clearly the grizzled veteran, the kind of cop who, if he were on TV, would say things like, “I’ve seen enough of this shit.” Other than that, by the end of the book I couldn’t really tell you anything about what the other cops are like. It feels as if too much of the author’s attention has been focused on 4MK at the expense of other characters. Perhaps that’s what the serial killer sub-genre calls for, but it seriously lessens enjoyment of the book.

The killer’s death at the beginning of the book could easily rob the story of its tension, but Barker ensures there is a real sense of urgency for the detectives as they search for his latest victim who is presumably still alive somewhere, waiting in terror for 4MK to return for their eyes. You know that in a book like this things are never as they seem, but Barker has the skills to genuinely surprise us.

The Fourth Monkey Killer is released 27 June. If serial killers are your thing, we recently revisited Knots & Crosses, from one of the modern masters of crime fiction, Ian Rankin. Or, see these leading serial killer series.


CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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