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Dave Gurney, a celebrated but now retired New York detective, caught a few notorious serial killers in his years of service. In retirement he lives with his wife Madeleine in the country, where he pursues the artistic side of his character, drawing on his experiences as a cop. The two are peas from the same pod, can complete one another’s sentences and each can guess how the other is thinking (with Madeleine the highest achiever here). However, beneath the surface of the apparently idyllic in-retirement relationship, tectonic plates are shifting. Something is causing tension in this marriage.
Gurney’s life is suddenly pierced by contact from an old college ‘friend’, seeking his advice. Mark Mellery has lived through the bad side of life but is now renewed and reinvented as a modern day disciple, spreading the word of good life and how to achieve it, at a complex owned by his wealthy wife. Mellery has been shaken by some personal mailings he has received, from someone who appears to know his life far too intimately and this person becomes menacingly threatening.
Delivering some very welcome originality, Verdon uses the theme of puzzles in this novel. What aches and threatens the Gurney marriage is a puzzle to be slowly disclosed. That which frightens Mellery is a set of puzzles making a game in which he is an unwitting player. That which bolts the retired Gurney to his old way of life is his need to solve puzzles and Mellery’s intervention presents a temptation that cannot be fought. When Mellery is found dead, even the circumstances present a puzzle that questions the logic around the physical possibility of the MO, and Gurney’s retirement soon becomes a mere interlude of the recent past.
One question over the early plotting aside, how wonderful it is to have a well-written thriller that engages at a cerebral level, offering a story richer than a mere page-turning chase woven over a flimsy plot. And where the troubled Gurney marriage may appear a cliché on the surface, here we have more depth and thought in understanding the impact on their lives.
Think of a Number – Verdon’s debut novel – comes littered with positive blurb from established authors. I am pleased to say this book met the hype. I’m surprised that there is not more reference to it on the web. A rich and satisfying read: do seek it out. This is Wii Fit for the brain for lovers of crime and thriller fiction.
With thanks to Penguin for the review copy.