Threatening letters arrive in the mail over a period of weeks, ending with a simple declaration: “Think of any number…picture it…now see how well I know your secrets.” Those who comply find that the letter writer has predicted their random choice exactly. But when oddities that begin as a diverting puzzle quickly ignite into a massive serial murder investigation, police are confronted with a 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.
Brought in as an investigative consultant, Dave Gurney, a recently retired NYPD homicide investigator, 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 he wonders if he’s met an adversary who can’t be stopped.
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.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Jason Strunk was by all accounts an inconsequential fellow, a bland thirty-something, nearly invisible to his neighbors--and apparently inaudible as well, since none could recall a single specific thing he'd ever said. They couldn't even be certain that he'd ever spoken. Perhaps he'd nodded, perhaps said hello, perhaps muttered a word or two. It was hard to say.
All expressed a conventional initial amazement, even a temporary disbelief, at the revelation of Mr. Strunk's obsessive devotion to killing middle-aged men with mustaches and his uniquely disturbing way of disposing of the bodies: cutting them into manageable segments, wrapping them colorfully, and mailing them to local police officers as Christmas presents.
Dave Gurney gazed intently at the colorless, placid face of Jason Strunk--actually, the original Central Booking mug shot of Jason Strunk--that stared back at him from his computer screen. The mug shot had been enlarged to make the face life-size, and it was surrounded at the borders of the screen by the tool icons of a creative photo-retouching program that Gurney was just starting to get the hang of.
He moved one of the brightness-control tools on the screen to the iris of Strunk's right eye, clicked his mouse, and then examined the small highlight he'd created.
Better, but still not right.
The eyes were always the hardest--the eyes and the mouth--but they were the key. Sometimes he had to experiment with the position and intensity of one tiny highlight for hours, and even then he'd end up with something not quite what it should be, not good enough to show to Sonya, and definitely not Madeleine.
The thing about the eyes was that they, more than anything else, captured the tension, the contradiction--the uncommunicative blandness spiked with a hint of cruelty that Gurney had often discerned in the faces of murderers with whom he'd had the opportunity to spend quality time.
He'd gotten the look right with his patient manipulation of the mug shot of Jorge Kunzman (the Walmart stock clerk who always kept the head of his last date in his refrigerator until he could replace it with one more recent). He'd been pleased with the result, which conveyed with disturbing immediacy the deep black emptiness lurking in Mr. Kunzman's bored expression, and Sonya's excited reaction, her gush of praise, had solidified his opinion. It was that reception, plus the unexpected sale of the piece to one of Sonya's collector friends, that motivated him to produce the series of creatively doctored photographs now being featured in a show headlined Portraits of Murderers by the Man Who Caught Them, in Sonya's small but pricey gallery in Ithaca.
How a recently retired NYPD homicide detective with a yawning uninterest in art in general and trendy art in particular, and a deep distaste for personal notoriety, could have ended up as the focus of a chic university-town art show described by local critics as "a cutting-edge blend of brutally raw photographs, unflinching psychological insights, and masterful graphic manipulations" was a question with two very different answers: his own and his wife's.
As far as he was concerned, it all began with Madeleine's cajoling him into taking an art-appreciation course with her at the museum in Cooperstown. She was forever trying to get him out--out of his den, out of the house, out of himself, just out. He'd learned that the best way to stay in control of his own time was through the strategy of periodic capitulations. The art-appreciation course was one of these strategic moves, and although he dreaded the prospect of sitting through it, he expected it to immunize him against further pressures for at least a month or two. It wasn't that he was a couch potato--far from it. At the age of forty-seven, he could still do fifty push-ups, fifty chin-ups, and fifty sit-ups. He just wasn't very fond of going places.
The course, however, turned out to be a surprise--in fact, three surprises. First, despite his pre-course assumption that his greatest challenge would be staying awake, he found the instructor, Sonya Reynolds, a gallery owner and artist of regional renown, riveting. She was not conventionally beautiful, not in the archetypal Northern European Catherine Deneuve mode. Her mouth was too pouty, her cheekbones overly prominent, her nose too strong. But somehow the imperfect parts were unified into a uniquely striking whole by large eyes of a deep smoky green and by a manner that was completely relaxed and naturally sensual. There were not many men in the class, just six of the twenty-six attendees, but she had the absolute attention of all six.
The second surprise was his positive reaction to the subject matter. Because it was a special interest of hers, Sonya devoted considerable time to art derived from photography--photography that had been manipulated to create images that were more powerful or communicative than the originals.
The third surprise came three weeks into the twelve-week course, on the night that she was commenting enthusiastically on a contemporary artist's silk-screen prints derived from solarized photographic portraits. As Gurney gazed at the prints, the idea came to him that he could take advantage of an unusual resource to which he had special access and to which he could bring a special perspective. The notion was strangely exciting. The last thing he'd expected from an art-appreciation course was excitement.
Once this occurred to him--the concept of enhancing, clarifying, intensifying criminal mug shots, particularly the mug shots of murderers, in ways that would capture and convey the nature of the beast he had spent his career studying, pursuing, and outwitting--it took hold, and he thought about it more often than he would have been comfortable admitting. He was, after all, a cautious man who could see both sides of every question, the flaw in every conviction, the naivete in every enthusiasm.
As Gurney worked at the desk in his den that bright October morning on the mug shot of Jason Strunk, the pleasant challenge of the process was interrupted by the sound of something being dropped on the floor behind him.
"I'm leaving these here," said Madeleine Gurney in a voice that to anyone else might have sounded casual but to her husband was fraught.
He looked over his shoulder, his eyes narrowing at the sight of the small burlap sack leaning against the door. "Leaving what?" he asked, knowing the answer.
"Tulips," said Madeleine in the same even tone.
"You mean bulbs?"
It was a silly correction, and they both knew it. It was just a way of expressing his irritation at Madeleine's wanting him to do something he didn't feel like doing.
"What do you want me to do with them in here?"
"Bring them out to the garden. Help me plant them."
He considered pointing out the illogic of her bringing into the den something for him to bring back out to the garden but thought better of it.
"As soon as I finish with this," he said a little resentfully. He realized that planting tulip bulbs on a glorious Indian-summer day in a hilltop garden overlooking a rolling panorama of crimson autumn woods and emerald pastures under a cobalt sky was not a particularly onerous assignment. He just hated being interrupted. And this reaction to interruption, he told himself, was a by-product of his greatest strength: the linear, logical mind that had made him such a successful detective--the mind that was jarred by the slightest discontinuity in a suspect's story, that could sense a fissure too tiny for most eyes to see.
Madeleine peered over his shoulder at the computer screen. "How can you work on something so ugly on a day like this?" she asked.
A perfect victim
David and Madeleine Gurney lived in a sturdy nineteenth-century farmhouse, nestled in the corner of a secluded pasture at the end of a dead-end road in the Delaware County hills five miles outside the village of Walnut Crossing. The ten-acre pasture was surrounded by woods of cherry, maple, and oak.
The house retained its original architectural simplicity. During the year they'd owned it, the Gurneys had restored to a more appropriate appearance the previous owner's unfortunate updates--replacing, for example, bleak aluminum windows with wood-framed versions that possessed the divided-light style of an earlier century. They did it not out of a mania for historical authenticity but in recognition that the original aesthetics had somehow been right. This matter of how one's home should look and feel was one of the subjects on which Madeleine and David were in complete harmony--a list that, it seemed to him, had lately been shrinking.
This thought had been eating like acid at his mood most of the day, activated by his wife's comment about the ugliness of the portrait he was working on. It was still at the edge of his consciousness that afternoon when, dozing in his favorite Adirondack chair after the tulip-planting activity, he became aware of Madeleine's footsteps brushing toward him through the ankle-high grass. When the footsteps stopped in front of his chair, he opened one eye.
"Do you think," she said in her calm, light way, "it's too late to take the canoe out?" Her voice positioned the words deftly between a question and a challenge.
Madeleine was a slim, athletic forty-five-year-old who could easily be mistaken for thirty-five. Her eyes were frank, steady, appraising. Her long brown hair, with the exception of a few errant strands, was pulled up under her broad-brimmed straw gardening hat.
He responded with a question from his own train of thought. "Do you really think it's ugly?"
"Of course it's ugly," she said without hesitation. "Isn't it supposed to be?"
He frowned as he considered her comment. "You mean the subject matter?" he asked.
"What else would I mean?"
"I don't know." He shrugged. "You sounded a bit contemptuous of the whole thing--the execution as well as the subject matter."
She didn't seem sorry. As he teetered on the edge of saying so, she changed the subject.
"Are you looking forward to seeing your old classmate?"
"Not exactly," he said, adjusting the reclining back of his chair a notch lower. "I'm not big on recollections of times past."
"Maybe he's got a murder for you to solve."
Gurney looked at his wife, studied the ambiguity of her expression. "You think that's what he wants?" he asked blandly.
"Isn't that what you're famous for?" Anger was beginning to stiffen her voice.
It was something he'd witnessed in her often enough in recent months that he thought he understood what it was about. They had different notions of what his retirement from the job was supposed to mean, what kind of changes it was supposed to make in their lives, and, more specifically, how it was supposed to change him. Recently, too, ill feeling had been growing around his new avocation--the portraits-of-murderers project that was absorbing his time. He suspected that Madeleine's negativity in this area might be partly related to Sonya's enthusiasm.
"Did you know he's famous, too?" she asked.
"Not really. He said something on the phone about writing a book, and I checked on it briefly. I wouldn't have thought he was well known."
"Two books," said Madeleine. "He's the director of some sort of institute in Peony, and he did a series of lectures that ran on PBS. I printed out copies of the book jackets from the Internet. You might want to take a look at them."
"I assume he'll tell me all there is to know about himself and his books. He doesn't sound shy."
"Have it your way. I left the copies on your desk, if you change your mind. By the way, Kyle phoned earlier."
He stared at her silently.
"I said you'd get back to him."
"Why didn't you call me?" he asked, more testily than he intended. His son didn't call often.
"I asked him if I should get you. He said he didn't want to disturb you, it wasn't really urgent."
"Did he say anything else?"
She turned and walked across the thick, moist grass toward the house. When she reached the side door and put her hand on the knob, she seemed to remember something else, looked back at him, and spoke with exaggerated bafflement. "According to the book jacket, your old classmate seems to be a saint, perfect in every way. A guru of good behavior. It's hard to imagine why he'd need to consult a homicide detective."
"A retired homicide detective," corrected Gurney.
But she'd already gone in and neglected to cushion the slam of the door.
Trouble in paradise
The following day was more exquisite than the day before. It was the picture of October in a New England calendar. Gurney rose at 7:00 a.m., showered and shaved, put on jeans and a light cotton sweater, and was having his coffee in a canvas chair on the bluestone patio outside their downstairs bedroom. The patio and the French doors leading to it were additions he'd made to the house at Madeleine's urging.
She was good at that sort of thing, had a sensitive eye for what was possible, what was appropriate. It revealed a lot about her--her positive instincts, her practical imagination, her unfailing taste. But when he got tangled in their areas of contention--the mires and brambles of the expectations each privately cultivated--he found it difficult to focus on her remarkable strengths.
He must remember to return Kyle's call. He would have to wait three hours because of the time difference between Walnut Crossing and Seattle. He settled deeper into his chair, cradling his warm coffee mug in both hands.
He glanced at the slim folder he'd brought out with his coffee and tried to imagine the appearance of the college classmate he hadn't seen for twenty-five years. The photo that appeared on the book jackets that Madeleine printed out from a bookstore website refreshed his recollection not only of the face but of the personality--complete with the vocal timbre of an Irish tenor and a smile that was improbably charming.
When they were undergraduates at Fordham's Rose Hill campus in the Bronx, Mark Mellery was a wild character whose spurts of humor and truth, energy and ambition were colored by something darker. He had a tendency to walk close to the edge--a sort of careening genius, simultaneously reckless and calculating, always on the brink of a downward spiral.
According to his website bio, the direction of the spiral, which had taken him down rapidly in his twenties, had been reversed in his thirties by some sort of dramatic spiritual transformation.
Balancing his coffee mug on the narrow wooden arm of the chair, Gurney opened the folder on his lap, extracted the e-mail he'd received from Mellery a week earlier, and went over it again, line by line.
I hope you don't find it inappropriate to be contacted by an old classmate after so much time has elapsed.
From the Hardcover edition.
What People are Saying About This
"[An] inventive and entertaining first thriller. The hard-edged characters and gritty plot recall Chandler's "mean streets," but the ornate puzzles laid before Verdon's detective might have challenged the "little grey cells" of Hercule Poirot."Washington Post
"Mr. Verdon was an advertising executive who retired to upstate New York before deciding on a more artistic pursuit. And if THINK OF A NUMBER is any indication, he'll have no trouble forgetting about that day job. The transition couldn't be much smoother...Verdon is masterly at keeping Gurney [his protagonist] a step ahead of the reader [and] the murder itself is a pretty crafty piece of legerdemain....[The novel features] the kind of head-scratching setup that would get Sherlock Holmes off his cocaine [and] Gurney has the same precision, logic and thirst for clarity."New York Times
"Verdon’s deftly written, erudite debut is an exquisitely plotted novel of suspense."
"Mostly what makes this work is the intricate fabric that debut novelist Verdon weaves, as complications twist into what seems to be an impossible knot."Chicago Sun-Times
"Good writing and good storytelling often aren’t the same thing. Verdon combines them masterfully...Here’s hoping Verdon has what it takes to churn out more books like this."Newark Star Ledger
“Verdon’s brought back crimes of impossibility, starting with the titular parlor game trifle and escalating until we're deep into serial murder territory. Verdon is a master at controlling pace, illustrating the story of a rich but complicated marriage, pondering what it means to be sucked back into your life's work even if it might kill you, and demanding that the reader use his or her brain to figure out what comes next. When you're finished, you may not trust silly parlor games ever again.”Salon
“Savor the sense of loss that haunts this strong debut.”Houston Chronicle
“John Verdon has…created an incredible crime novel which could give Steig Larsson a run for his well-earned money…All of the characters are incredibly well developed…The descriptions of scenes make you feel like you are there, and the plot is brilliant.”The Herald-Dispatch (West Virginia)
“Will hook just about any reader…An astoundingly addictive work filled with real life characters that jump off the page into a daring and skillful plot, this book will leave you stumped and hungry for more…THINK OF A NUMBER excels in its interweaving of wonderful characterization and psychological Insight…[Verdon] has created a book for all readers, not just those who revel in the thriller genre.”– New York Journal of Books
“The mystery is brilliantly executed…If you read only one thriller this year, make it THINK OF A NUMBER.” Bookloons
“Think of a number between one and ten…Now multiply that by zero. Which is how many times you’ll put this book down.” Mystery Scene
"The numbers game gets a murderous spin in Verdon’s deft, literate debut."Publishers Weekly
"Verdon’s superb debut novel is a riveting thriller with a wonderfully baffling crime. Think of a Number is a 10, and crime fans of almost every persuasion will love it. An outstanding debut."— Thomas Gaughan, Booklist (Starred Review)
“Addictive and thoroughly engrossing…In THINK OF A NUMBER, Verdon plays deliciously on our deepest, most primal fears, portraying a killer who seems to see right into people’s minds. Few readers will be able to resist the lure of watching an unstoppable detective track an uncatchable killer. This tale will grab hold of you like a steel jaw trap."Joseph Finder, New York Times bestselling author of VANISHED
“Verdon's premise is clever and his police work convincing, which right there might be enough; but the real joy of this book is its characters. Each one, no matter how minor, is unique and beautifully observed. THINK OF A NUMBER had me from the opening pages and carried me right along.” S.J. Rozan, Edgar-winning author of THE SHANGHAI MOON
"Spectacular and mind-bending, THINK OF A NUMBER is the best thriller I've read in a long, long time. John Verdon's writing is so polished, so nuanced, it makes me envious that I didn't write this terrific novel." Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of ICE COLD
“With its edge-of-the-chair suspense, memorable characters that jump off the pages, and elegant and deft writing, John Verdon's THINK OF A NUMBER is a stunning debut.”Faye Kellerman, New York Times bestseller author of STONE KISS and THE FORGOTTEN
“THINK OF A NUMBER is truly unputdownable. Rarely have I read a debut novel that has gripped me as this one has from the first page to the last. This book doesn’t just entertain – it engages you and draws you immediately into the lives of the characters, who are as real as real can be. John Verdon has written a flawless novel about flawed people and he’s written it beautifully. I hope we see a lot more of John Verdon and his smart protagonist, Dave Gurney, in years to come.”Nelson DeMille, New York Times bestseller author of THE LION’S GAME, THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER and GOLD COAST
"John Verdon's THINK OF A NUMBER is one of the finest thrillers I've read in years. I devoured it. Consistently intelligent, fast-paced, filled with clever twists and psychological insight, and characters that come alive on every page, it entertains from the opening set-piece, right through the tension-filled ending. In a genre frequently and sadly known for delivering more of the same old familiar stuff, THINK OF A NUMBER stands out as original and exciting. If there were a line-up of upcoming mystery-thriller suspects, I have little doubt that just about every witness would pick out THINK OF A NUMBER.”John Katzenbach, New York Times bestselling author of THE TRAVELER, JUST CAUSE and HART’S WAR
“John Verdon’s THINK OF A NUMBER is simply one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a lifetime of thriller reading eloquent, heart-rending, deeply suspenseful on many levels, and relentlessly intelligent. The characters live and breathe, the plot is diabolically clever and airtight, and the prose is sublime. Absolutely not to be missed! At one stroke, Verdon establishes himself as a bright star in the thriller firmament.”John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of THE SUSPECT, BETRAYAL and A PLAGUE OF SECRETS
“Just when you think the serial killer thriller has been done to death, someone comes along and revives it! THINK OF A NUMBER is written with pace, style and intelligence. It has rounded characters, teasing puzzles, and lots of tension. The number I'm thinking of is 1!”Reginald Hill, author of RULING PASSION and MIDNIGHT FUGUE and winner of the Crime Writer’s Association Dagger Award for Lifetime Achievement
"THINK OF A NUMBER is a subtle and intelligent thriller of the first order. With his gripping premise, well-drawn characters, and relentless escalation of suspense, John Verdon has penned an exciting debut. Don't miss it."Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author of DIE FOR YOU
“THINK OF A NUMBER is a dark, disturbing, and completely compelling debut.
It's got menacing puzzles you won't be able to figure out, a villain who will raise the hairs on the back of your neck, and a wonderful main character in retired homicide cop Dave Gurney. The pages turn themselves.”Spencer Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of DOG ON IT!
"I loved this book. It’s at once familiar to thriller readers and something incredibly new. It’s a puzzle mystery and a police procedural and a cautionary tale about loss and love—the book literally has something for everyone, with a conclusion so eerily perfect it could have been scripted by Hitchcock himself. This is a thriller that will rewrite the rules of the genre."—Will Lavender, New York Times bestselling author of OBEDIENCE
A Conversation with John Verdon, Author of Think Of A Number Crown; July 6, 2010
Q. You were a New York City advertising executive, the president of an agency, and the promotion director of one of the most successful magazines in the world. How did all that prepare you for writing a novel?
A. Lurking beneath the various jobs and titles I've held over the years, there was one activity that was always present. From the day I began my career to the day I retired from it, whatever my position was at the time, I always gravitated toward the part of it that involved writingwhether it was copy for a TV commercial, or the analysis and description of a marketing opportunity, or a competitive pitch to a prospective client. I always saw my job in terms of words, expression, and communication. Frankly, it's my only significant skill, and one of the few activities in life that totally absorb me. I discovered years ago that flying a small plane in a large storm is also pretty absorbing, but not in a way that would make me want to do it ten hours a day.
Q. Reviewers have described Think of a Number as a classic nail-biting thriller, an exciting police procedural, a poignant examination of a marriage in trouble, and a great literary feast. How do you see it?
A. I see it as the story of a troubled homicide detective whose attachment to the game creates all of the excitement, all of the rewards, and most of the problems in his life. The man is a genius when it comes to dealing with maniacs and murderers, but a disaster when it comes to dealing with his wife and son. His unquenchable appetite for pursuing the most dangerous people on earth is his great strength and great weakness. He's an unstoppable cop with a tragic sense of his own ineptitude as a human being. I think that sort of central character helps the book become many things to many people.
Q. You didn't grow up with cops in the family. You have no personal experience in law enforcement, no criminal relatives, and no personal or professional contacts with murderers or psychopaths. So what was it that inspired you to write this kind of book?
A. That's a bit of a mystery. The truth is, I wasn't trying to write "this kind of book." I wasn't trying to write anything that fell within the defined boundaries of a particular genre, or that followed the construction rules for a thriller, or a PI noir, or a "cozy," or any other category. In fact, at the time I was writing Think of a Number, I didn't even know what the traditional categories were. I just wanted to tell a story about a very smart and troubled good guy locked in a desperate struggle with a very smart and troubled bad guy. I was told later that what I had produced was an innovative, rule-breaking thriller. But that just sort of happened. It was never a conscious goal.
Q. There seem to be some similarities between your main character, Dave Gurney, and yourself. You were both born in the Bronx and both graduated from Fordham College. You both had high-pressure careers in the city, and you both moved to a remote rural area completely different from what you were accustomed to. How much of the character is based on your own history and personality?
A. That's hard to say. It's true that Dave is a Bronx boy whose ambitions took him elsewhere. Some of the environments he encounters in the book are places I am personally quite familiar with. Some of his thoughts and feelings parallel some of my own. However, he definitely has a life and talents and perspectives that are different from mine. I mean, he's a homicide detective! And he has the courage, the steeliness, the confrontational abilities for that. He has the stomach for it, the toughness for it. All of that sets us pretty far apart. I think I understand him well enough to write about him, but I could never do what he does. I've also been blessed with a life far less fraught with trouble and tragedy than hislighter and brighter in so many ways. My wife and I are really quite happy. We're glad to wake up in the morning. We have the good fortune to live in a beautiful place that we both love. We laugh a lot. We're grateful for our life together, for the opportunities we've been given, for our four children, for our five grandchildren.
Q. Without giving too much away, can you tell us how you came up with the ingenious premise for Think of a Number?
A. Honestly? The truth is, I have a deep streak of paranoia. It's a curse and a blessing. A curse because I can easily scare the hell out of myself. A blessing because I have no trouble coming up with really disturbing plot possibilities. The seed of the idea behind Think of a Number was something like this: What if you got an anonymous note from someone who challenged you to think of any number from one to a thousand, and then a second note revealing the exact number you thought of? The book takes off from that starting point, weaving a complex, increasingly nightmarish web that entangles a lot of people, a lot of victims. When an idea gives me a little tingle of gooseflesh, I know it has possibilities.
Q. Will we be hearing more from Dave Gurney in the future?
A. Absolutely. Despite the epiphany he experiences in Think of a Number, Dave has a lot more to learn about himself, about his wife and son, and about the nature of the glue that attaches him to his profession. Like all of us, Dave acts on the basis of what he believes is true, and through the consequences of his actions he discovers the limitations of those beliefs and hopefully arrives at a new perception of who he is and what's important. That's a process that can be repeated again and again through the cycles of a character's growth. The second Dave Gurney novel is intended for publication in the summer of 2011, and the third in 2012.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I couldn't put this book down. An excellent thriller that begins when David Gurney, a retired NYC detective is approached by an old college friend (Mark Mellory). Neither had spoken since college but Mellory had followed Gurney's storied career as he had solved some very famous police cases. On top of that Mellory had always thought of Gurney as someone with a sharp mind. Mellory has a puzzle to solve and he thinks someone of Gurney's mettle may be of assistance. Apparently he had received a somewhat threatening letter by someone who claims he know something bad that Mellory did and that he knows Mellory so well that he can guess the first number that comes to Mellory's mind from 1 to 1000. Mellory thought of the number 656 and sure enough a second letter comes with the number 656 written on it. Along with that letter comes a series of poems, each more threatening followed by phone calls. Gurney is intrigued and starts investigating for Mellory even though he is "retired." This whole thing does not sit well with Gurney's wife Madelaine. She had always wanted Gurney to retire and move away from NYC to the country and they live in a very rural town called Walnut Crossing. Madelaine always felt that Gurney would always be so absorbed by his work that he would forget everything else and this feeling had only been amplified by the death of their young son several years earlier. As Gurney gets more involved in Mellory's problem he builds a bigger rift with Madelaine. The investigation leads to the trail of a possible serial killer. The local authorities are baffled and feel that they need someone with Gurney's skill to solve the mysteries left behind by the killer. Gurney realized that he may only be retired in name but in reality he starts acting like a cop again and gets involved with the case to the exclusion of all else. The mystery at the beginning of the book grips you and the book builds to a tension packed finale.
This was my first E Book for the Nook. I bought it because it was cheap. I got hooked immediately. This was one of the best mysteries I have ever read. Hope this guy keeps writing. His easy style just keeps you reading on and on. All the way through I kept trying to guess who the murderer could be and was never even close. Highly recommend to anyone who likes a good mystery.
Excellent character and plot development. Writing style shows a maturity of a seasoned writer, even though this book is the author's first. The plot stays focused throughout and does not wander away to superfluous or irrelevant sidebars. Great start for a newby author...look forward to his next fiction.
I enjoyed this book to the fullest!! I couldn't put it down. It was the first book I've purchased for my Nook..and it was awesome. I love mystery and enjoy trying to figure out who did it. This book kept you guessing. I really wanted to skip a head and find out, but I didn't. I can see this book as a movie in the near future. The Authors discription of the scenes were in great detail, and plot was very thrilling. I recomend this book for everyone to read who enjoys a good murder mystery.
The author can certainly write. He has a great command of language and vocabulary. What I didn't like about the book was it moved too slowly. Almost every comment hat to be described with some meaning or intention or look. If you cut out what the character meant, or was thinking or how they pursed their lips, etc., this book could have been written in 75 pages. The action moved at a snail's pace. Because of the hook which kept me till the end, I give this book three stars. Next time, I hope the writer will have more action and leave some of the descriptive information to the reader's imagination. The author has great potential, and I post this as a constructive comment and not condemnation.
I thought the plot and storyline of this book was great, however the writing left something to be desired. I often found my mind wandering at the flowery, verbose writing and I got tired of picking up a dictionary. This prevented me getting fully absorbed in the book. I can typically read a thriller of this length in less than 3 days, but it took me over a week and half; curious as to the outcome, but dreading the verbage to get me there. Maybe it's my own personal preferences, but when I want to read a Crime drama, a Thriller, a Suspense novel I want a rapid flowing writing style that grasps you from page 1 and doesn't let go until the last word. I didn't expierence that with this novel despite the potential from the plot and characters.
The characters of the husband and wife were so true to life, more so than in most novels that I normally read. The same could be said about the chief of police and politicians. The story had me as stumped as the detectives and the police forces along with the psychologist, but I gradually figured out the who part way through, but not the how. Nice view of the Catskills!
hello....this is so terrific....i wish there were 10 others like it....this is like nothing you will read...don't miss this one, and i hope to interview him on my website..WWW.DAVIDSBOOKTALK.COM...
i was trying to guess the who dunit all through the book. had me going all the way through and i was not expecting that one. then the author says this is his first book. i'm shocked. i was looking for more of his work. hope he keeps'em coming. he is a better author than many who have been out there for some time. well worth it.
I found this to be one of the most satisfying thriller/mystery books I have read in a while. If you like puzzles, you will love this book. It details a murder in upstate New York and subsequent murders that are wrapped in an enigma. Dave Gurney, a celebrated but retired NYPD homicide detective, is contacted by Mark Mellery, an old college acquaintance, to help unwrap the mystery of some letters he has received. What would you do if you received a letter that asked you to think of a number and correctly predicts the number you chose? Then you receive more letters and phone calls that purport to reveal the less savory aspects of your private life. Mark asks Dave to put his investigative skills to work to thwart the letter ploy, but Mark suddenly shows up brutally murdered. Dave is swept up in the official investigation, lending his expertise to try and solve the mysterious and incongruous clues purposefully left by the killer. The book is well thought out. The mystery is intriguing. The clues are like breadcrumbs dropped skillfully by the killer to lead Dave, the police, and the reader to a bloody denouement.
I love murder mysteries, and this will become a classic. This is the first novel from John Verdon, and if he can keep this level of writing, he will place himself with James Patterson. A retired detective gets pulled into a mysterious game with a genius. The twists are numerous, and the end is a total surprise. I hope to hear more from the detective and author.
I REALLY LIKED THIS BOOK. I AM A MYSTERY THRILLER FANATIC AND FOUND THIS TO BE AS ENTERTAINING, INTERESTING AND WELL WRITTEN AS PATTERSON, KELLERMAN, ETC. I LOOK FORWARD TO MORE OF THIS LEAD CHARACTER, DAVE GURNEY! I ALSO LIKED THE HUMAN FRAILITIES AND THE INTERACTION BETWEEN THE HERO AND HIS WIFE.
i was about to give up..then it hooked me, but lost it all with a predictable ending...this writer has potential...........keep it up and try again!!
This is a great first book for this author. I think that if he continues to write these types of storylines, he will not be selling his books again for $3.99. The serial murder storyline business is quite competitive, so hats off to him for his entree into this category. The author did a great job of weaving the story together. It is a deep storyline beyond the serial murder series that we typically read, because he also weaves in the main characters personal struggles and in the end ties them altogether. Would speed up the ending a bit as I did find the roundtable discussions to be a bit verbose but it does not damage or tarnish my opionion of the book at all. Would definitely read another book by this author.
Dave Gurney is a retired homicide detective who worked with the NYPD. When a old college buddy contacts Dave, saying that he has received a letter and would like Dave's help. This letter raises so many questions and the puzzle excites Dave. The killer can get inside his victims heads. How is that possible? When his friend ends up dead and someone else receives the same letter, Dave tries to follow the clues but this is unlike any other murder he's investigated. When the evidence ends up creating more questions than answers, Dave will not rest until he figured out this killer. The problem is, he may have to die in order to find the answers he's searching for. I cannot believe that this is John's first book. He's truly a talented thrill writer with a unique voice. I'm adding him to my list of favorite author's because this book deserves five stars - easy.
NYPD homicide investigator David Gurney retired to a beautiful and remote town in upstate New York with his wife Madeleine. While Madeleine loves the change of pace and scenery, Gurney is finds it difficult to adjust. He's spent the last twenty years putting homicide cases first, a fact that hasn't been lost on his wife. Madeleine has clear ideas of how they can enjoy their new life together and her frustration and annoyance is quick to rise to the fore. When she encourages him to take art classes, she hadn't expected him to come up with computer enhanced portraits of murderers -- or for the portraits to become such a hit in their local gallery. As Gurney is settling into retirement, he receives a cry for help from an old college acquaintance. A successful writer and wellness guru is targeted with letters that claim to know what he's thinking: "See how well I know your secrets -- just think of a number." And the letter writer somehow guessed the exact number. But the taunting moves from letters to violence and along with a ravaged body are puzzling clues. David Gurney agrees to aid the investigation. In David Gurney, John Verdon gives us a complex and sympathetic new detective -- I hope that it is the start of a new series. Verdon skillfully creates a top notch thriller. He builds on the puzzles and clues from the crime scenes to present a coherent and satisfying story. I also appreciated and enjoyed Verdon's description of Gurney's home life. It was easy to picture Madeleine, her attempts to have Gurney plant tulips, clear the snow, and settle into their new life -- and her resentment at the way that Gurney returns the chase. Think of a Number: A Novel is a nuanced, complicated, and thoroughly entertaining read. ISBN-10: 0307588920 - Hardcover Publisher: Crown (July 6, 2010), 432 pages. Review copy provided by the publisher.
Don't miss this one....Verdon slams the reader into scene after scene with the force of a roller coaster getting ready to leave the track. His character development is real and then some, and his storytelling is superb. This is going to be one of those series that you'll want to keep... I am currently reading the third Gurney adventure, and can't wait for number four.
I was excited to see this was the first in the series. Normally, I'm trying to find the first one and start a series so it was exciting to get in from the beginning I love to read work by new authors. This book was well worth the money. I like the angle between the retired detective and his wife and how they are distant from one another and yet close at the same time. You can tell his years on the force has taken it's toll on their marriage. The death of their child and the mystery there has me very curious. This writer has a lot of great description and emotional depth that I like to see in a story. The mystery surrounding the number was great. I will be watching for the second book!
A great effort for a first time author, I will look for his next book, hopefully out soon. A great whodunit with twists and turns throught out and a surprise ending to this whodunit. Got me up at 2:30 am, I couldn't stop trying to figure it out and got up to finish the book.
I initially put off buying and reading this book because of the early reviews describing it as a well written character story. I read mystery and thriller books because I like the plots and involved action. I also like well written characters but I'm not crazy about books that are more about the characters than the plot. This book has an outstanding plot, great action, amazingly creative and original mystery scenario; but the characters are also very well done and very interesting. I truly hope writes another novel featuring Dave Gurney and his wife Madeleine. An extremely well done book!!
Psychological thriller. Creepy page turner....loved it.
Story involves a retired detective, famous for capturing a notorious serial killer, who is called out of retirement by a college chum to help decipher a mysterious mailing. The item and subsequent mailings leads the detective to a series of unexplainable events and murders. And intertwined with his investigation, are events that force him to face his own psychological failures and family problems. Often, the outcome of mystery books are obvious from the beginning, but with this book, the author keeps the reader guessing right to the end.
This was a good summer read. There were times in the book where it really caught me by surprise. I did find that in places the book did drag, but not enough for me to put the book down. I like the fact that I did not figure out the ending till the end..I would not read it a 2nd time, but would recommend to friends.
If this is what Mr. Verdon can do for a first effort, he has a long and successful career ahead of him as an author. I found it to be a great murder mystery that only took me a couple nights to complete. Lots of plot twists and interesting characters. Hope Mr. Verdon is working on another story for us. Oh, by the way....the price was great too!
The plot is outstanding with no poetic license taken. The ending is well thought out and nicely done. No 'thriller' writer I've read - Patterson, Sandford, Ludlum, etc. - writes with the eligance and style of Verdon. For a first novel he has hit a bases loaded homer. I hope the character becomes a series. I couldn't put the book down.