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The Fifth to Die

Review

The Fifth to Die

In 1981, Thomas Harris took the publishing world by storm with the release of RED DRAGON. Up to that point, readers had not experienced anything quite like this, as Harris had the uncanny ability to place them directly inside the mind of not one but two serial killers. The novel was later turned into the terrific film Manhunter. Seven years later, Harris followed up RED DRAGON with the earth-shattering THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, which featured the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a secondary character in his debut. The movie on which the book was based is one of three in the history of cinema to sweep the Academy Awards. More importantly, from a literary standpoint, the serial killer genre was officially born.

Standing in the shadow of Harris' novels was a plethora of authors attempting to add their name and voice to this now overcrowded genre. Some were good, but most missed the mark, and none were close to Harris’ work. That is, until 2017, when J. D. Barker released THE FOURTH MONKEY, which took the serial killer genre to another level, at times elevating it to the realm of crime noir and suspense. It also provided extremely clever puzzles that were unwrapped one at a time in a string of revelations that left readers breathless.

"I cannot recommend THE FIFTH TO DIE highly enough to readers of great thrillers, suspense novels or just flat-out extremely well-written fiction. Right now I cannot get the book out of my head and eagerly await the final dance in what appears to be one of the finest suspense/serial killer trilogies ever written."

THE FOURTH MONKEY introduced us to Sam Porter, perhaps the most haunted detective since RED DRAGON's FBI profiler Will Graham. The sudden loss of his wife propels Porter into his work. Whether he likes it or not, he has to face a demented evil genius named Anson Bishop, whose string of grisly murders has earned him the tag “the Four Monkey Killer.” Bishop was infamous for mailing body parts in nicely wrapped packages to the police and family members of his victims. Porter nearly loses his mind when he attempts to match wits with Bishop. What finally puts him over the edge is when FBI agent Paul Watson, assigned to ''assist” Porter and the Chicago P.D. with the case, turns out to be Bishop himself --- one of the greatest twists I have ever read.

THE FIFTH TO DIE continues the saga and warped chess game taking place between Porter and Bishop. Porter is on leave from the force, and the real Feds have stepped in to take control of the case. Of course, Porter cannot stand away from the action and is compelled to continue chasing down Bishop on his own. Meanwhile, his colleagues are faced with a new series of abductions of young women. Little did they know at the start of that investigation that their search would soon converge with both the Feds and Porter as Bishop is involved indirectly in all of these events.

Porter's team is assisted by Sophie Rodriguez from Missing Children as the abducted women were all young. The kidnapper is soon proven to be a murderer when a body turns up. He is also playing with the police when they discover that the dead girl is clothed in the outfit that the second missing girl had been wearing last. No one believes that Bishop is the culprit, as the prime target of his serial murders, Arthur Talbot, was successfully killed by him in the prior novel.

The new, nameless abductor is shown to us slowly and then in full disclosure. He seems to be drowning his victims in a tub filled with ice, but then brings them back to life so he can learn what they saw on the other side. He is obsessed with life-after-death imagery and seeking to find an answer to what awaits us upon dying. It becomes evident that the scarred, bald man who wears the black knit cap is suffering from some serious ailment and near death himself. He is using these women as surrogate explorers into the afterlife to give him the answers only someone on the fringe of dying would be curious about. It is kind of a bizarre shout-out to the movie Flatliners.

You may wonder what all this has to do with Anson Bishop. Let's just say that Bishop is always several steps ahead of his pursuers and us readers, and the revelations Barker has in store will stun you. Bishop is one of the most brilliant villains I have seen and worthy of comparison to the likes of the aforementioned Hannibal Lecter and the killer John Doe from the classic film Se7en. Porter finds evidence of Bishop's mother and possible correspondence between them. His search, aided in some way by Bishop himself, leads him to a women's prison in New Orleans. With the help of the attorney for the prisoner known only as Jane Doe, he gets her released to his custody. Bishop has given specific instructions on where the reunion with his mother will take place, and Porter, attorney Sarah Werner and Jane Doe set off by car to the destination. The suspense of the inevitable meeting between Bishop and his mother is extremely nerve-wracking and makes for great reading.

The last third of this weighty novel is written at breakneck speed with an intensity that becomes almost unbearable. Just when readers feel in sync with Porter, Bishop and Barker pull off another masterful surprise that you will not see coming. Things are left wide open for a third novel, and the author indicates this in the Acknowledgements page: “Anson Bishop --- are you ready to finish this little dance?”

I cannot recommend THE FIFTH TO DIE highly enough to readers of great thrillers, suspense novels or just flat-out extremely well-written fiction. Right now I cannot get the book out of my head and eagerly await the final dance in what appears to be one of the finest suspense/serial killer trilogies ever written.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on August 3, 2018

The Fifth to Die
by J. D. Barker

  • Publication Date: July 10, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN-10: 0544973976
  • ISBN-13: 9780544973978