Monday, July 19, 2010

Think Of A Number - John Verdon

Think Of A Number
John Verdon
Crown Publishing
Copyright: July 2010

The product description:
An extraordinary fiction debut, Think of a Number is an exquisitely plotted novel of suspense that grows relentlessly darker and more frightening as its pace accelerates, forcing its deeply troubled characters to moments of startling self-revelation.

Arriving in the mail over a period of weeks are taunting letters that end with a simple declaration, “Think of any number…picture it…now see how well I know your secrets.”  Amazingly, those who comply find that the letter writer has predicted their random choice exactly.  For Dave Gurney, just retired as the NYPD’s top homicide investigator and forging a new life with his wife, Madeleine, in upstate New York, the letters are oddities that begin as a diverting puzzle but quickly ignite a massive serial murder investigation.

What police are confronted with is a completely baffling killer, one who is fond of rhymes filled with threats and warnings, whose attention to detail is unprecedented, and who has an uncanny knack for disappearing into thin air.  Even more disturbing, the scale of his ambition seems to widen as events unfold.

Brought in as an investigative consultant, Dave Gurney soon accomplishes deductive breakthroughs that leave local police in awe.  Yet, even as he matches wits with his seemingly clairvoyant opponent, Gurney’s tragedy-marred past rises up to haunt him, his marriage approaches a dangerous precipice, and finally, a dark, cold fear builds that he’s met an adversary who can’t be stopped.

In the end, fighting to keep his bearings amid a whirlwind of menace and destruction, Gurney sees the truth of what he’s become – what we all become when guilty memories fester – and how his wife Madeleine’s clear-eyed advice may be the only answer that makes sense.

A work that defies easy labels -- at once a propulsive masterpiece of suspense and an absorbing immersion in the lives of characters so real we seem to hear their heartbeats – Think of a Number is a novel you’ll not soon forget. 
To be honest, Think of a Number is not my usual reading material, being a mystery/thriller type of novel, where I usually read history, historical fiction, and science fiction/fantasy. I was asked to read the book by one of the managers at work. Surprisingly, I'm glad he did ask, as I quite enjoyed the read - and I wouldn't have read it otherwise, I suspect.

There are some things about the book that I think were a bit over the top (such as the cluelessness of some of the detectives: I still can't believe that someone doesn't know the saying "like a bull in a china shop" (not quite a direct quote)).

Regardless of all that, the book was one I found hard to put down until it was finished - full of surprising twists and a rather creepy bad guy - who's not who you might think it is. The story is as much in the motivations of the characters, both Dave Gurney and the murder as it is in the solving of the crimes. It's very dramatically written too.

I suspect that the book will end up as a movie, and think it would do very well as one too - though I have not even the slightest guess to casting. I also wonder if there's going to be any more books, making Think Of A Number into a series.

John Verdon has done a very good job with this, his first novel, and I wish him luck with any future enterprises as well. Think Of A Number is a book for any mystery/thriller lover.

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