Title: Think of a Number
Author: John Verdon
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “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.”
Thoughts: Intriguing, captivating, thought-provoking – all of those cliched descriptions are appropriate when describing Think of a Number. There is a deliberateness, a focus on logic that is both unique and appealing. The murders themselves are not the focus but rather the psychological aspect of solving a crime that makes up the heart of the novel. Still suspenseful, still heart-pounding, Think of a Number proves that the details truly make up the most fascinating aspects of any crime.
Reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, Dave Gurney has a similar approach to crimes. There is no rushing to judgment, no jumping to conclusions. What appears impossible is known to have a rational explanation once all the facts are known. It is this appreciation for the puzzle aspect of a crime that is so interesting because it is the antithesis of modern society with its focus on headlines and tendency to gravitate towards sensationalism rather than earnestness. Even flawed as he is, with his dysfunctional relationship with his son and strained relationship with his wife, Gurney is the epitome of never giving up and using hard work to accomplish the impossible. In an era when big guns and brute strength seem to be the only way to solve problems, the use of one’s brain is a refreshing approach to conflict resolution.
Think of a Number is also reminiscent of the television show, Criminal Minds. Both use knowledge of a serial killer’s insights, thought processes, and profiles to help solve the case. However, in Mr. Verdon’s case, the reader has the added resource of stepping into the mind of a very successful detective as well. The end result is a story that unfolds methodically and slowly while losing none of the suspense and anxiety that makes up a great crime novel. This is a story that builds tension with each unveiled puzzle piece, and the thrilling climatic scene is made more powerful because of the knowledge already uncovered about the mental and psychological aspect of the criminal. Think of a Number draws readers into the seemingly impossible murders and continues to delight through the very end, making it one of the better murder mysteries I’ve read all year.
Thank you to Random House for my review copy!