Sunday, June 10, 2012

Think Of a Number

by John Verson

Recently retired NYPD detective Dave Gurney, known for his serial killer collars, is approached by Mark, a college friend, now running a behavioral modification institute for the wealthy.  Mark, a Joel Osteen-type, has gotten some bizarre threatening notes, in one of which the writer has apparently guessed what number he was thinking of and written it down.  Gurney, chafing at retirement and the quietly judgmental presence of his wife, applies his obsessively analytical mind to the puzzle.  He’s inclined to dismiss the letters as the work of a crank, but then Mark is murdered in the most baffling manner, with the only clues being the careful, cunning killer’s own mocking obfuscations, such as backward footprints and wordplay.  Then, other bodies are found, killed in the same trademark fashion; and the killer leaves notice that he’s going to go after the police as well.

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  Gurney, burdened with guilt, living to work, and analytical in the extreme, is a great character, and Verdon does a terrific job showing his skills through early conversations with Mark and his wife.  The mystery is, of course, beguiling and baffling, and Verdon misdirects the reader in a lot of clever ways, with red herrings and the old “Psycho” trick of dwelling a long time on the motives and life of a character who ends up just being one of several deaths.  Indeed, I suspected Mark himself at first, and then a cop who seemed not to have proper credentials.  But the mystery is too great in scope, and Verdon drops a few balls at the end.  With the climax yet to come, it becomes very clear that a certain relatively unnoticed character is the killer, and it doesn’t jibe with Verdon’s crack team of Gurney, another dogged detective, and a forensic psychologist who are so very clever, but don’t stop to ask about what might happen to all those letters the killer sent that didn’t lead to victims.  That is to say that (1) if the killer sent out hundreds of letters, someone, probably many people, would have called the police about it, and this person would be investigated; and (2) or at the very least, they’d be indignant and contact the person at the return address.  So logically and practically, it all falls apart.  Still, though, I admire Verdon’s ambition for a first novel (and why are so many first novels about fathers with son issues or vice-versa?), and I would read a second Gurney novel.

three stars

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