Book Review: John Verdon’s THINK OF A NUMBER
Retired NYPD detective Dave Gurney is contacted by an old acquaintance, Mark Mellery, who says he’s being stalked by someone sending sinister notes. The note writer seems to be able to read Mellery’s mind, telling him to think of random numbers and correctly predicting them in previously sealed envelopes. Before Gurney can figure out the motive, Mellery is murdered, with baffling clues left behind for the cops to find. When other bodies start piling up, the police bring in Gurney as a consultant to help beat the killer at his own twisted game.
For the first quarter of the book, Verdon had me flipping the pages because I couldn’t figure out how the killer was pulling off the mind-reading scheme. Eventually, though, the author’s tendency to overwrite everything became problematic. Witness the following:
For a moment he was distracted by the awareness of his own dissembling presentation of his emotional reaction.
That confusing sentence aside, Verdon often states the obvious. Gurney is told by another cop not to remove and touch evidence from a plastic bag when the brilliant veteran detective would know this. Adverbs are overused, both in dialogue tags—e.g. “he whispered gratingly”—and in descriptions: A cop gives Gurney a “professionally neutral” look. As opposed to a casually neutral look? Neutral is neutral.
We’re also told several times within a scene how a character resembles Sigourney Weaver, and the androgynous quality of another’s voice is mentioned every time she speaks. These details have no importance, making their repetition curious. And perhaps to heighten Gurney’s expertise, Verdon piles the stupidity onto almost every other law enforcement character, having them ask inane questions befitting a rookie instead of a DA, police captain or twenty-four-year veteran on the force.
The emotionally distant Gurney is hard to like; even he admits he’s more cerebral than emotive. For all his thinking, his wife Madeleine is the one who figures out some of the most perplexing aspects of the case. He also makes an incredibly careless move to bait the killer that puts Madeleine’s life at risk then doesn’t warn her of the danger she’s in.
The book’s flaws are frustrating because the unique central puzzle could have been turned into a more thrilling story. I wish Gurney, the supposedly astute detective, and his creator had discovered that sometimes less is more.
Nerd verdict: Faulty Number
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