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A Caller's Game


A Caller's Game

J. D. Barker is quickly becoming one of the best thriller writers working today. He is incapable of producing a novel that fails to immediately engage you with tension that never lets up. I am pleased to report that A CALLER’S GAME is no exception. The book takes place in the middle of Manhattan on a hectic Friday morning, and the central setting is the satellite radio studio of controversial talk show host Jordan Briggs.

Jordan is more than just the female version of Howard Stern. Her show is not about crudeness but is more an opportunity to match her quick and extremely cutting wit against both the callers who phone in and the hapless guests she has in the studio. This particular Friday morning is not starting out great for Jordan. Manhattan traffic is going to make her late, and it has only increased because singer Meghan Trainor is performing at Rockefeller Center for the “Today” show. Jordan actually stops her car a block from her building, locks it in the middle of the street, and huffs the rest of the way by foot, all while preparing to be patched in via Bluetooth by her producer, Billy. This does not make NYPD Officer Cole Hundley very happy, so he pursues her.

"A CALLER’S GAME is a relentless novel that never lets up on the action or suspense.... There are so many revelations, plot twists and new threats that it makes Die Hard look like a comedy."

While on the air, Jordan can see a list from Billy of the five phone lines the show uses, the names of those who are calling, where they are from, and what they wish to say. One such caller is a man from Brooklyn named Bernie. He seems innocent enough, if not a bit weird, and wants Jordan to play a game with him. She agrees, and he asks if she prefers yellow taxis or Ubers. Jordan picks the former hands down, a decision that sets off the explosions that will constantly rock the novel. Several cabs are booby-trapped with C-4, and Bernie begins blowing them up. Once Jordan and Billy put together that the “terrorist attacks” around Midtown Manhattan are all connected to Bernie, they patiently wait for him to call back to find out what he is really up to.

Officer Hundley is right in the mix since he happened to be around Jordan’s building at the time the explosions started. Soon it will become evident that he is no regular beat cop, and he will have several opportunities to be a hero. Seven taxis are blown up --- and that is just the start.

Bernie reveals it is no coincidence that all of this is taking place on the day that Senator Alonzo Moretti is scheduled to be an in-studio guest. It turns out that not much of anything is a coincidence, especially when we learn Bernie’s reasons for doing what he is doing. I do not want to reveal that here because it is so much fun and definitely raises A CALLER’S GAME to another level of thriller. It is not long before Jordan’s building and her entire staff become the next targets of this maniacal individual.

Police find a string of dead bodies that Bernie had left prior to his explosive display, including the couple from Brooklyn who lived in the apartment from where he initially called Jordan. To make matters worse and more personal for the talk show host, her 11-year-old daughter, Charlotte, is visiting the studio that day and is abducted. Bernie even tries to bargain the lives of Charlotte and Jordan’s staff in exchange for Jordan shooting and killing Senator Moretti.

A CALLER’S GAME is a relentless novel that never lets up on the action or suspense. At certain moments I did not know how Barker was going to be able to keep up the intense pace for 400+ pages, but somehow he pulls if off. Readers will have no choice but to sit there helplessly and watch as the villains begin blowing up the high-rise office building floor by floor. There are so many revelations, plot twists and new threats that it makes Die Hard look like a comedy.

I especially liked the Author’s Note that Barker wrote to future readers who he assumed would be enjoying the novel sometime after the pandemic. His accounts of how he dealt with the early days of quarantine while finishing A CALLER’S GAME are especially profound and timely.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on March 5, 2021

A Caller's Game
by J. D. Barker

  • Publication Date: February 22, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Hampton Creek Press
  • ISBN-10: 1734210443
  • ISBN-13: 9781734210446