Windy City thriller packs plenty of surprises

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In J.D. Barker’s The Fourth Monkey (Mariner, 427 pages, $21), a Chicago cop races against time to uncover the identity of a serial killer and save the life of a teenage girl.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/06/2018 (1643 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In J.D. Barker’s The Fourth Monkey (Mariner, 427 pages, $21), a Chicago cop races against time to uncover the identity of a serial killer and save the life of a teenage girl.

Actually, the story is a lot more complicated than that, with plenty of dead-end alleys and delicious surprises, but to say more here would risk spoiling the book.

That would be a shame, because this is one hell of a book: brilliantly plotted and exceedingly well written, with characters as real as anyone you might meet on the street.

It’s the first of a trilogy (the sequel, The Fifth to Die, comes out in July), but when the book opens, the killer has already been operating for five years, and there’s a general air of frantic desperation, as if the investigators know they’d better find him soon, or they’ll never find him at all.

In a genre full of retreads and cookie-cutter characters, The Fourth Monkey is a breath of fresh air.

● ● ●

Tim Lebbon’s dark-edged urban fantasy The Folded Land (Titan 336 pages, $20) is the sequel to 2017’s Relics. After she discovered that mythological creatures such as fairies and centaurs aren’t so mythological after all, Angela Gough ran afoul of a rather nasty antiquities dealer; now in this fast-paced sequel she is on the lam, hiding from pursuers both human and inhuman.

After Angela’s niece Sammi is hit by lightning (twice!), she’s spirited away by a malevolent fairy — one with whom Angela has a rather tortured history.

Now, Angela is forced to put her own life on the line to rescue Sammi; but how long can she stay one step ahead of the people (and creatures) determined to hunt her down?

Lebbon is one of those writers who can take a frankly outlandish premise and make it feel not just plausible, but natural, as though mythological creatures have always existed among us and we simply hadn’t noticed them until now. Splendid.

● ● ●

Jeffrey Kluger’s Lost Moon (1994) told the story of the 1970 Apollo 13 moon mission, in which the spacecraft suffered a catastrophic that nearly killed the crew.

Now, in Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon (Picador, 307 pages, $24), Kluger skips back in time a few years and chronicles the first NASA mission to orbit the moon and return home.

The author doesn’t merely tell us about the space flight itself; he also takes us through the selection of the astronauts, the development of the specialized equipment and the sometimes brutal training regimen.

Kluger’s knowledge of the history of the American space program serves him well here; this is no bland piece of reportage, no dry recitation of facts.

It is, as its subtitle says, a thrilling story, beautifully written.

● ● ●

Jane Hawk, the FBI agent introduced in Dean Koontz’s The Silent Corner (2017), returns with a vengeance — literally — in The Whispering Room (Bantam, 631 pages, $13).

Jane, whose investigation into her husband’s death led her to uncover a massive conspiracy, is now on the run, pursued by her former colleagues, not to mention pretty much every other law-enforcement agency in the country.

Jane has only one thing on her mind: finding the people behind the conspiracy and making them pay for her husband’s death.

In his long literary career Koontz has created many memorable characters, and it’s safe to say that Jane Hawk is among his most elegantly designed and compellingly written.

She’s smart, tough and resourceful, that much is clear; what also becomes clear is that she is manifestly (perhaps dangerously) obsessive, as though the whole world has narrowed to a single compulsion: find the conspirators and avenge her husband.

Is Jane headed inevitably toward self-destruction? Crack open this cracking-good thriller and find out.

Halifax writer David Pitt’s paperbacks column runs the first Saturday of every month. Follow him on Twitter at @bookfella.

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Updated on Saturday, June 2, 2018 9:53 AM CDT: Headline fixed.

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