07-22-2012 08:33 PM - edited 07-23-2012 02:38 PM
In addition to a guest blog, today we have an EXCLUSIVE excerpt from John Verdon's third book, which will be released on July 26. His books are favorites of mine - true puzzlers, and very suspenseful, too!
Let me introduce you to John and his books, first. I've got excerpts of his first two books for you, too - enjoy!
PRAISE FOR JOHN VERDON
Praise for THINK OF A NUMBER
“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 a step ahead of the reader, [and] the murder itself is a pretty crafty piece of legerdemain . . . the kind of head-scratching setup that would get Sherlock Holmes off his cocaine. . . . Gurney has the same precision, logic and thirst for clarity.” —New York Times
“[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
“Savor the sense of loss that haunts this strong debut.” —Houston Chronicle
“Verdon’s deftly written, erudite debut is an exquisitely plotted novel of suspense.” —Portland Oregonian
“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
“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
“A thought-provoking thriller written with attention to detail . . . one of the most cerebral books I’ve read in some time. It challenged me as a reader in many ways, and I felt enriched by simply having experienced it.” —Crimespree
“It’s hard to remember a better debut for a crime writer. John MacDonald’s The Brass Cupcake. David Baldacci’s Absolute Power. Dennis Lehane’s A Drink Before the War. There are others, but let’s add John Verdon’s Think of a Number to that pantheon.” —Newark Star-Ledger
“John Verdon has . . . created an incredible crime novel which could give Stieg 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.” —Herald-Dispatch (West Virginia)
“An outstanding debut sure to enchant a wide range of readers.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“Verdon’s superb debut novel is a riveting thriller with a wonderfully baffling crime. Dave, Madeleine, their marriage, and Mellery are compellingly observed; lesser characters are vividly sketched. The sense of place, whether the Catskills at the onset of winter or the shabby Bronx, is almost visceral. Police procedures and forensics—and the politics of a high-profile crime—seem knowing. THINK OF A NUMBER is a 10, and crime fans of almost every persuasion will love it. An outstanding debut.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“A cryptic, taunting criminal tells his targets exactly the number they are thinking of, even though they selected the digits randomly. A murderer walks away from a bloody corpse, leaving tracks in the snow that just end, leaving no evidence of how the killer escaped from the scene. How can any true mystery lover, drawn to the genre for the chance to match wits with the author, resist straining his or her mental muscles to explain these apparent impossibilities? Both of these extreme challenges appear in the same book, John Verdon’s astonishing 2010 debut . . . a work that convincingly demonstrates that there’s still life in one of the oldest mystery subgenres, the fair-play puzzle, by devising devious but plausible answers to baffling setups and fleshing out the framework with a fully realized and three-dimensional lead.”
—Publishers Weekly, “The State of (Fair) Play”
“The numbers game gets a murderous spin in Verdon’s deft, literate debut.” —Publishers Weekly
“The intricate plotting of Verdon’s page-turning debut, along with the murder’s impossible aspect, keeps up until the satisfying climax. And Gurney is one of the most true-to-life detectives to come along in a long while. His obsession with his cases, even to the point of damaging his marriage, rings true, as does his thoughtful approach to crime solving. Readers will find this one just about impossible to put down.”
—McKenna Jordan of Murder by the Book, in Publishers Weekly’s Galley Talk
“Remarkable. . . . The writing is haunting and quotable, the twists expertly placed and infinitely plausible. . . . You can read the book as a game of cat and mouse, a ride of chilling suspense, or a literary repast, since it provides all in abundance.” —David Baldacci, Amazon.com guest review
“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
“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 bestselling 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 bestselling author of THE LION’S GAME, THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER, and THE GOLD COAST
“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
“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
“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 Award–winning author of THE SHANGHAI MOON
“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 Writers’ 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
Praise for SHUT YOUR EYES TIGHT
“Taut and suspenseful . . . Verdon is in top form as he lays out the twisty mechanics of the crime, creating an agreeably sinister villain. . . . A strong follow-up to the author’s wildly entertaining debut.”
“The crime is grisly and the cop is complicated. A nice combination.” —New York Daily News
“For anyone who loves a good puzzle, John Verdon’s Shut Your Eyes Tight is the easy answer.”
“Verdon, who hit a home run with his debut novel, Think of a Number, has now nailed another one. Red herrings come thick and fast in the labyrinthine plot, and the suspense builds until the violent denouement. But it is the nature of the criminal conspiracy, utterly vile, fantastic, and yet curiously plausible, that will have crime readers willingly losing sleep.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Verdon follows THINK OF A NUMBER, his sensational debut featuring retired NYPD detective Dave Gurney, with this standout sequel, set a year later. [The elements:] a bizarre, high-profile murder . . . an apparent impossibility involving the murder weapon, and once again . . . a relationship in crisis.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Absorbing complications, perfect pacing, a conflicted protagonist (endearing for his introspection), and the author’s insight, which imbues the story with tremendous humanity, make this a must-read for thriller fans who enjoy tales that are not only gripping but believable.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“Reading author John Verdon is a must! The author of Think of a Number has just penned his second book and, once again, it is a winner. Verdon’s technique keeps the intelligent reader on their toes.”
“A darkly twisted murder story, this investigation is one that will have you guessing until the end as Dave unwraps each piece of the puzzle.” —News & Sentinel (Parkersburg, WV)
“As incredible as it seems, a relatively new author with no law enforcement background has created a protagonist with insight and skills that rival the best crime solvers of all time . . . a fantastic read. One that dares you to put it down.” —New York Journal of Books
“The puzzle of the murder mystery, in which we participate alongside Gurney, is suspenseful and challenging, and as a psychological thriller keeps the reader breathlessly turning the pages. . . . The suspense and fear come together in a final heart-stopping crescendo . . . a breathtaking thriller.” —Shelf Awareness
“John Verdon is the new superstar of the mystery genre.” —BookLoons.com
“If wars were fought with books instead of armies and munitions, John Verdon would be the American weaponry lobbed against the amassed might of the invading Nordic noir. Seriously. Shut Your Eyes Tight, his sophomore offering, heralds the return of Dave Gurney in a book so good that, once you start it, you will hope it never ends. . . . It’s one of those rare novels that will make you smarter but give you nightmares. And you’ll love it, for both reasons.” —BookReporter.com
07-22-2012 08:36 PM
A Conversation with
LET THE DEVIL SLEEP
Crown; July 24, 2012
Q. Let the Devil Sleep is now your third book featuring former NYPD detective Dave Gurney. When you first began writing novels, was your plan to create a series?
A. When I started writing Think of a Number, I wasn’t sure I could complete even one novel, much less a series. The series idea really had two distinct sources—encouragement from my agent and publisher and the development potential of the characters themselves. As Think of a Number took shape and the central characters came to life, it became clear that these people had an abundance of desires and issues and energies that could provide the backbone for a succession of new stories.
Q. Your first two books, Think of a Number and Shut Your Eyes Tight, have received fantastic praise and have gone on to become international bestsellers. Why do you think they’re so popular?
A. I can only guess at the answer from what I’ve read in the reviews. What people seem to like best is the combination of an exciting thriller plot with a closely examined relationship between the detective and his wife. Apparently, readers find the stories fast-paced and very entertaining, but they also feel that the characters are emotionally real.
Q. Speaking of characters, in Let the Devil Sleep we get to see a great deal more of Dave’s wife, Madeleine, and his son. Was that a progression you were always planning? Or a response to fans’ reactions?
A. That character progression seems natural and necessary to me now, but it was never planned. When I began work on Let the Devil Sleep, I imagined Dave would still be suffering from the after-effects of what happened to him in Shut Your Eyes Tight, and the change in his attitude would have an effect on how Madeleine related to him. I’m not sure we see more of Madeleine in terms of her overall presence, but we do see another side of her—so I guess it’s “more” in that sense. As for Kyle, it just seemed an appropriate time to move him from the periphery of Dave’s life into the middle of it. And a number of readers did influence that decision. After being teased by his shadowy presence in the first two books, they wanted to see more of Kyle. And so did I. Dave’s problems as a father—his awkwardness with love itself—had been alluded to many times. I wanted to bring that issue front and center.
Q. With three novels now officially under your belt, what have you learned since your first novel was published?
A. For me, the most gratifying discovery is that there is an enthusiastic audience for mystery-thrillers that take complicated relationship issues seriously. The fact is, this is the only kind of book I would be interested in writing. What engages me most thoroughly in the writing process is the interaction of complex characters. Often I feel that I am not so much “creating” them, but rather that I am watching them, listening to them, and taking notes. They seem to have lives, ambitions, and fears of their own—which I get to observe and describe. For me, that’s where the deepest pleasure of this profession resides.
Q. Will we see Gurney return in future novels?
A. Absolutely. Despite the epiphanies he experiences in Think of a Number, Shut Your Eyes Tight, and Let the Devil Sleep, 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 through the cycles of a character’s growth.
07-22-2012 08:37 PM
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.
07-22-2012 08:41 PM
Think of a Number by John Verdon
The perfect place
Peony was a town twice removed from the history it sought to reflect. Adjacent to Woodstock, it pretended to the same tie-dyed, psychedelic, rock-concert past—while Woodstock in turn nourished its own ersatz aura through its name association with the pot-fogged concert that had actually been held fifty miles away on a farm in Bethel. Peony’s image was the product of smoke and mirrors, and upon this chimerical foundation had risen predictable commercial structures—New Age bookstores, tarot parlors, Wiccan and Druidical emporia, tattoo shops, performance-art spaces, vegan restaurants—a center of gravity for flower children approaching senility, Deadheads in old Volkswagen buses, and mad eclectics swathed in everything from leathers to feathers.
Of course, among these colorfully weird elements there were interspersed plenty of opportunities for tourists to spend money: stores and eateries whose names and decor were only a little outrageous and whose wares were tailored to the upscale visitors who liked to imagine they were exploring the cultural edge.
The loose web of roads radiating out from Peony’s business district led to money. Real-estate prices had doubled and tripled after 9/11, when New Yorkers of substantial means and galloping paranoia were captivated by the fantasy of a rural sanctuary. Homes in the hills surrounding the village grew in size and number, the SUVs morphed from Blazers and Broncos into Hummers and Land Rovers, and the people who came for country weekends wore what Ralph Lauren told them people in the country wore.
Hunters, firemen, and teachers gave way to lawyers, investment bankers, and women of a certain age whose divorce settlements financed their cultural activities, skin treatments, and mind-expanding involvements with gurus of this and that. In fact, Gurney suspected that the local population’s appetite for guru-based solutions to life’s problems may have persuaded Mark Mellery to set up shop there.
He turned off the county highway just before the village center, following his Google directions onto Filchers Brook Road—which snaked up a wooded hillside. This brought him eventually to a road- side wall of native slate, laid nearly four feet high. The wall ran parallel to the road, set back about ten feet, for at least a quarter of a mile. The setback was thick with pale blue asters. Halfway along the stretch of wall, there were two formal openings about fifty feet apart, the entrance and exit of a circular drive. Affixed to the wall at the first of these openings was a discreet bronze sign: mellery institute for spiritual renewal.
Turning in to the driveway brought the aesthetic of the place into sharper focus. Everywhere Gurney looked, he was given an impression of unplanned perfection. Beside the gravel drive, autumn flowers seemed to grow in haphazard freedom. Yet he was sure this casual image, not unlike Mellery’s, received careful tending. As in many haunts of the low-profile rich, the note intoned was one of meticulous informality, nature as it ought to be, with no wilting bloom left unpruned. Following the driveway brought Gurney’s car to the front of a large Georgian manor house, as gently groomed as the gardens.
Standing in front of the house and eyeing him with interest was an imperious man with a ginger beard. Gurney rolled down his win- dow and asked where the parking area might be found. The man replied with a plummy British accent that he should follow the drive to its end.
Unfortunately, this led Gurney out through the other opening in the stone wall onto Filchers Brook Road. He drove back around through the entrance and followed the drive again to the front of the house, where the tall Englishman again regarded him with interest.
“The end of the drive took me to the public road,” said Gurney. “Did I miss something?”
”What a bloody fool I am!” the man cried with exaggerated chagrin that seemed in conflict with his natural bearing. “I think I know everything, but most of the time I’m wrong!”
Gurney had an inkling he might be in the presence of a mad- man. He also at that point noticed a second figure in the scene. Standing back in the shadow of a giant rhododendron, watching them intently, was a dark, stocky man who looked as if he might be waiting for a Sopranos audition.
“Ah,” cried the Englishman, pointing with enthusiasm farther along the drive, “there’s your answer! Sarah will take you under her protective wing. She’s the one for you!” Saying this with high the- atricality, he turned and strode off, followed at some distance by the comic-book gangster.
Gurney drove on to where a woman stood by the driveway, solicitude writ large on her pudgy face. Her voice exuded empathy.
“Dear me, dear me, we’ve got you driving around in circles. That’s not a nice way to welcome you.” The level of concern in her eyes was alarming. “Let me take your car for you. Then you can go right into the house.”
“That’s not necessary. Could you just tell me where the parking area is?”
“Of course! Just follow me. I’ll make sure you don’t get lost this time.” Her tone made the task seem more daunting than one would imagine it to be.
She waved to Gurney to follow her. It was an expansive wave, as though she were commanding a caravan. In her other hand, at her side, she carried a closed umbrella. Her deliberate pace conveyed a concern that Gurney might lose sight of her. Reaching a break in the shrubbery, she stepped to the side, pointing Gurney into a narrow off- shoot of the driveway that passed through the bushes. As he came abreast of her, she thrust the umbrella toward his open window.
“Take it!” she cried.
He stopped, nonplussed.
“You know what they say about mountain weather,” she explained.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine.” He continued past her into the parking
area, a place that looked able to accommodate twice the cars currently there, which Gurney numbered at sixteen. The neat rectangular space was nestled amid the ubiquitous flowers and shrubs. A lofty copper beech at the far end separated the parking area from a three-story red barn, its color vivid in the slanting sunlight.
He chose a space between two gargantuan SUVs. While he was parking, he became aware of a woman watching the process from behind a low bed of dahlias. When he got out of the car, he smiled politely at her—a dainty violet of a woman, small-boned and delicate of feature, with an old-fashioned look about her. If she were an actress, thought Gurney, she’d be a natural to play Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst.
“I wonder if you could tell me where I might find Mark—” But the violet interrupted him with her own question.
“Who the **bleep** said you could park there?”
07-22-2012 08:41 PM
A unique ministry
From the parking area, Gurney followed a cobblestone pathway around the Georgian mansion, which he guessed would be used as the institute’s business office and lecture center, to a smaller Georgian house about five hundred feet behind it. A small gold-lettered sign by the path read private residence.
Mark Mellery opened the door before Gurney knocked. He wore the same sort of costly-casual attire he’d worn on his visit to Walnut Crossing. Against the background of the institute’s architecture and landscape, the apparel lent him a squire-like aura.
“Good to see you, Davey!”
Gurney stepped into a spacious chestnut-floored entry hall furnished with antiques, and Mellery led the way to a comfortable study toward the rear of the house. A blaze crackling softly in the fireplace perfumed the room with a hint of cherry smoke.
Two wing chairs stood opposite each other to the right and left of the fireplace and, with the sofa that faced the hearth, formed a U-shaped sitting area. When they were settled in the chairs, Mellery asked whether he’d had any trouble finding his way around the property. Gurney recounted the three peculiar conversations he’d had, and Mellery explained that the three individuals were guests of the institute and their behavior constituted part of their self-discovery therapy.
“In the course of his or her stay,” Mellery explained, “each guest plays ten different roles. One day he might be the Mistake Maker— that sounds like the role Worth Partridge, the British chap, was play- ing when you came upon him. Another day he might be the Helper—that’s the role Sarah, who wanted to park your car, was playing. Another role is the Confronter. The last lady you encountered sounds like she was playing that part with extra relish.”
“What’s the point?”
Mellery smiled. “People act out certain roles in their lives. The content of the roles—the scripts, if you will—is consistent and predictable, although generally unconscious and rarely seen as a matter of choice.” He was warming to his subject, despite the fact he must have spoken these explanatory sentences hundreds of times. “What we do here is simple, although many of our guests consider it pro- found. We make them aware of the roles they unconsciously play, what the benefits and costs of those roles are, and how they affect others. Once our guests see their patterns of behavior in the light of day, we help them see that each pattern is a choice. They can retain or discard it. Then—this is the most important part—we provide them a program of action to replace damaging patterns with healthier ones.”
The man’s anxiety, Gurney noted, receded as he spoke. The subject had put an evangelical brightness in his eyes.
“By the way, all this might sound familiar to you. Pattern, choice, and change are the three most overused words in the whole shabby world of self-help. But our guests tell us that what we do here is different—the heart of it is different. Just the other day, one of them said to me, ‘This is the most perfect place on earth.’”
Gurney tried to keep skepticism out of his voice. “The therapeutic experience you provide must be very powerful.”
“Some find it so.”
“I’ve heard that some powerful therapies are quite confrontational.”
“Not here,” said Mellery. “Our approach is soft and welcoming.
Our favorite pronoun is we, not you. We speak about our failings and fears and limitations. We never point at anyone and accuse them of anything. We believe that accusations are more likely to strengthen the walls of denial than to break them down. After you look through one of my books, you’ll understand the philosophy better.”
“I just thought things might occasionally happen on the ground, so to speak, that weren’t part of the philosophy.”
“What we say is what we do.”
“No confrontations at all?”
“Why do you belabor the point?”
“I was wondering if you’d ever kicked anyone hard enough in the balls to make him want to kick you back.”
“Our approach rarely makes anyone angry. Besides, whoever my pen pal is, he’s from a part of my life long before the institute.”
“Maybe, maybe not.”
A confused frown appeared on Mellery’s face. “He’s fixated on my drinking days, something I did drunk, so it has to be before I founded the institute.”
“On the other hand, it could be someone involved with you in the present who read about your drinking in your books and wants to scare you.”
As Mellery’s gaze wandered through a new array of possibilities, a young woman entered. She had intelligent green eyes and red hair pulled back in a ponytail.
“Sorry to intrude. I thought you might want to see your phone messages.”
She handed Mellery a small pile of pink message notes. His surprised expression gave Gurney the sense that he was not often interrupted this way.
“At least,” she said, raising an eyebrow significantly, “you might want to look at the one on top.”
Mellery read it twice, then bent forward and handed the message form across the table to Gurney, who also read it twice.
On the “To” line was written: Mr. Mellery.
On the “From” line was written: X. Arybdis.
In the space allocated to “Message” were the following lines of verse:
Of all the truths
you can’t remember,
here are the truest two:
Every act demands its price.
And every price comes due.
I’ll call tonight to promise you
I’ll see you in November
or, if not, in December.
Gurney asked the young woman if she herself had taken the message. She glanced at Mellery.
He said, “I’m sorry, I should have introduced you. Sue, this is an old and good friend of mine, Dave Gurney. Dave, meet my wonderful assistant, Susan MacNeil.”
“Nice to meet you, Susan.”
She smiled politely and said, “Yes, I was the one who took the message.”
“Man or woman?”
She hesitated. “Odd you should ask. My first impression was a man. A man with a high voice. Then I wasn’t sure. The voice changed.”
“At first it sounded like a man trying to sound like a woman. Then I got the idea that it might be a woman trying to sound like a man. There was something unnatural about it, something forced.”
“Interesting,” said Gurney. “One more thing—did you write down everything this person said?”
She hesitated. “I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
“It looks to me,” he said, holding up the pink slip, “like this message was dictated to you carefully, even the line breaks.”
“So he must have told you that the arrangement of the lines was important, that you should write them exactly as he dictated them.”
“Oh, I see. Yes, he did tell me where to start each new line.”
“Was anything else said that’s not actually written here?”
“Well . . . yes, he did say one other thing. Before he hung up, he asked if I worked at the institute directly for Mr. Mellery. I said yes, I did. Then he said, ‘You might want to look at new job opportunities. I’ve heard that spiritual renewal is a dying industry.’ He laughed. He seemed to think it was very funny. Then he told me to make sure Mr. Mellery got the message right away. That’s why I brought it over from the office.” She shot a worried look at Mellery. “I hope that was okay.”
“Absolutely,” said Mellery, imitating a man in control of a situation.
“Susan, I notice you refer to the caller as ‘he,’” said Gurney. “Does that mean that you’re pretty sure it was a man?”
“I think so.”
“Did he give any indication what time tonight he planned to call?”
“Is there anything else you remember, anything at all, no matter how trivial?”
Her brow furrowed a little. “I got a sort of creepy feeling—a feeling that he wasn’t very nice.”
“He sounded angry? Tough? Threatening?”
“No, not that. He was polite, but . . .”
Gurney waited while she searched for the right words.
“Maybe too polite. Maybe it was the odd voice. I can’t say for sure what gave me the feeling. He scared me.”
After she left to go back to her office in the main building, Mellery stared at the floor between his feet. “It’s time to go to the police,” said Gurney, picking this moment to make his point.
“The Peony police? God, it sounds like a gay cabaret act.”
Gurney ignored the shaky attempt at humor. “We’re not just dealing with a few crank letters and a phone call. We’re dealing with someone who hates you, who wants to get even with you. You’re in his sights, and he may be about to pull the trigger.”
07-22-2012 08:42 PM
Excerpt #2 (pp.96-103, partial)
It was exactly 10:00 a.m. when Gurney followed Mark Mellery into a large room on the ground floor of the main building. It resembled the sitting room of an expensive country inn. A dozen armchairs and half a dozen sofas were oriented in the general direction of a grand fireplace. Most of the twenty attendees were already seated. A few lingered at a sideboard on which stood a silver coffee urn and a tray of croissants.
Mellery walked casually to a spot in front of the fireplace and faced his audience. Those at the sideboard hurried to their seats, and all fell expectantly silent. Mellery motioned Gurney to an armchair by the fireplace.
“This is David,” announced Mellery with a smile in Gurney’s direction. “He wants to know more about what we do, so I’ve invited him to sit in on our morning meeting.”
Several voices offered pleasant greetings, and all the faces offered smiles, most of which looked genuine. He caught the eye of the birdlike woman who’d accosted him obscenely the day before. She looked demure, even blushed a little.
“The roles that dominate our lives,” Mellery began without pre- amble, “are the ones we’re unaware of. The needs that drive us most relentlessly are the ones we’re least conscious of. To be happy and free, we must see the roles we play for what they are, and bring our hidden needs into the light of day.”
He was speaking calmly and straightforwardly and had the complete attention of his audience.
“The first stumbling block in our search will be the assumption that we already know ourselves, that we understand our own motives, that we know why we feel the way we do about our circumstances and the people around us. In order to make progress, we will need to be more open-minded. To find out the truth about myself, I must stop insisting that I already know it. I’ll never remove the boulder from my path if I fail to see it for what it is.”
Just as Gurney was thinking that this last observation was expanding the envelope of New Age fog, Mellery’s voice rose sharply.
“You know what that boulder is? That boulder is your image of yourself, who you think you are. The person you think you are is keeping the person you really are locked up without light or food or friends. The person you think you are has been trying to murder the person you really are for as long as you both have lived.”
Mellery paused, seemingly overtaken by some desperate emotion. He stared at his audience, and they seemed hardly to breathe. When he resumed speaking, his voice had dropped to a conversational volume but was still full of feeling.
“The person I think I am is terrified of the person I really am, terrified of what others would think of that person. What would they do to me if they knew the person I really was? Better to be safe! Better to hide the real person, starve the real person, bury the real person!”
Again he paused, letting the erratic fire in his eyes subside.
“When does it all start? When do we become this set of dysfunctional twins—the invented person in our head and the real person locked up and dying? It starts, I believe, very early. I know in my own case the twins were well established, each in his own uneasy place, by the time I was nine. I’ll tell you a story. My apologies to those who’ve heard me tell it before.”
Gurney glanced around the room, noting among the attentive faces a few with smiles of recognition. The prospect of hearing one of Mellery’s stories for a second or third time, far from boring or annoying anyone, seemed only to increase their anticipation. It was like the response of a small child to the promised retelling of a favorite fairy tale.
“One day as I was leaving for school, my mother gave me a twenty-dollar bill to pick up some groceries on my way home that afternoon—a quart of milk and a loaf of bread. When I got out of school at three o’clock, I stopped at a little luncheonette next to the school yard to buy a Coke before I went to the grocery store. It was a place where some of the kids hung out after class. I put the twenty-dollar bill on the counter to pay for the Coke, but before the counterman took the bill to make change, one of the other kids came over and saw it. ‘Hey, Mellery,’ he said, ‘where’d you get the twenty bucks?’ Now, this kid happened to be the toughest kid in the fourth grade, which is the grade I was in. I was nine, and he was eleven. He’d been left back twice, and he was a scary kid—not someone I was supposed to be hanging around with, or even speaking to. He got in a lot of fights, and there were stories that he used to break in to people’s houses and steal things. When he asked me where I got the money, I was going to say that my mother gave it to me to buy milk and bread, but I was afraid he’d make fun of me, call me a mama’s boy, and I wanted to say something that would impress him, so I said that I stole it. He looked interested, which made me feel good. Then he asked me who I stole it from, and I said the first thing that came into my mind. I said that I stole it from my mother. He nodded and smiled and walked away. Well, I was sort of relieved and uncomfortable at the same time. By the next day, I’d forgotten about it. But a week later he came up to me in the school yard and said, ‘Hey, Mellery, you steal any more money from your mother?’ I said no, I hadn’t. And he said, ‘Why don’t you steal another twenty bucks?’ I didn’t know what to say. I just stared at him. Then he smiled a creepy little smile and said, ‘You steal another twenty bucks and give it to me, or I’ll tell your mother about the twenty you stole last week.’ I felt the blood drain out of me.”
“My God,” said a horse-faced woman in a burgundy armchair on the far side of the fireplace, as other murmurings of empathic anger rippled across the room.
“What a prick!” growled a thickly built man with murder in his eyes.
“It threw me into a panic. I could picture him going to my mother, telling her I had stolen twenty dollars from her. The absurdity of that—the unlikelihood of this little gangster going to my mother about anything—never occurred to me. My mind was too overloaded with fear—fear that he would tell her and she would believe him. I had no confidence whatever in the truth. So, in this state of mindless panic, I made the worst possible decision. I stole twenty dollars from my mother’s purse that night and gave it to him the next day. Of course, the next week he made the same demand. And the week after that. And so on, for six weeks, until I was finally caught in the act by my father—caught closing the top drawer of my mother’s bureau, with a twenty-dollar bill clutched in my hand. I confessed. I told my parents the whole horrible, shameful story. But it only got worse. They called our pastor, Monsignor Reardon, and took me to the church rectory to tell the story all over again. The next night the monsignor had us come back and sit down with the little blackmailer and his mother and father, and again I had to tell the story. Even that wasn’t the end of it. My parents cut off my allowance for a year to pay them back for the money I stole. It changed the way they looked at me. The blackmailer concocted a version of events to tell everyone in school that painted him as some kind of Robin Hood and me as a rat that snitched. And every once in a while, he’d give me an icy little smirk that suggested that someday soon I might get pushed off an apartment-house roof.”
Mellery paused in the recounting of his tale and massaged his face with the palms of his hands, as though easing muscles that had been tightened by his recollections.
The burly man shook his head grimly and said again, “What a prick!”
“That’s exactly what I thought,” said Mellery. “What a manipulative little prick! Whenever that mess came to mind, the next thought in my head was always, ‘What a prick!’ That’s all I could think.”
“You were right,” said the burly man in a voice that sounded used to being listened to. “That’s exactly what he was.”
“That’s exactly what he was,” Mellery agreed with rising intensity, “exactly what he was. But I never got past what he was, to ask myself what I was. It was so obvious what he was, I never asked myself what I was. Who on earth was this nine-year-old kid, and why did he do what he did? It’s not enough to say he was afraid. Afraid of what, exactly? And who did he think he was?”
Gurney found himself surprisingly caught up in this. Mellery had captured his attention as completely as anyone else’s in the room. Gurney had slipped from being an observer into being a participant in this sudden search for meaning, motive, identity. Mellery had begun pacing back and forth in front of the giant hearth as he spoke, as though driven by memories and questions that would not let him stand still. The words tumbled out of him.
“Whenever I thought of that boy—myself, at the age of nine— I thought of him as a victim, a victim of blackmail, a victim of his own innocent desire for love, admiration, acceptance. All he wanted was for the big kid to like him. He was a victim of a cruel world. Poor little kid, poor little sheep in the jaws of a tiger.”
Mellery stopped his pacing and spun around to face his audience. Now he spoke softly. “But that little boy was something else, as well. He was a liar and a thief.”
The audience was divided between those who looked like they wanted to object and those who nodded.
“He lied when he was asked where he got the twenty dollars. He claimed to be a thief to impress someone he assumed was a thief. Then, faced with the threat of his mother’s being told he was a thief, he actually became a thief rather than have her think he was one. What he cared about most was controlling what people thought of him. Compared to what they thought, it didn’t matter much to him whether he actually was a liar or a thief, or what effect his behavior had on the people he lied to and stole from. Let me put it this way: It didn’t matter enough to keep him from lying and stealing. It only mattered enough to eat away like acid at his self-esteem when he did lie and steal. It mattered just enough to make him hate himself and wish he was dead.”
Mellery fell silent for several seconds, letting his comments sink in, then continued, “Here’s what I want you to do. Make a list of people you can’t stand, people you’re angry at, people who’ve done you wrong—and ask yourself, ‘How did I get into that situation? How did I get into that relationship? What were my motives? What would my actions in the situation have looked like to an objective observer?’ Do not—I repeat, do not—focus on the terrible things the other person did. We are not searching for someone to blame. We did that all our lives, and it got us nowhere. All we got was a long, useless list of people to blame for everything that ever went wrong! A long, useless list! The real question, the only question that matters is ‘Where was I in all of this? How did I open the door that led into the room?’ When I was nine, I opened the door by lying to win admiration. How did you open the door?”
The little woman who had cursed Gurney was looking increasingly disconcerted. She raised her hand uncertainly and asked, “Doesn’t it sometimes happen that an evil person does something terrible to an innocent person, breaks in to their house and robs them, let’s say? That wouldn’t be the innocent person’s fault, would it?”
Mellery smiled. “Bad things happen to good people. But those good people do not then spend the rest of their lives gnashing their teeth and replaying over and over their resentful mental videotape of the burglary. The personal collisions that upset us the most, the ones we seem powerless to let go of, are those in which we played a role that we are unwilling to acknowledge. That’s why the pain lasts—because we refuse to look at its source. We cannot detach it, because we refuse to look at the point of attachment.”
Mellery closed his eyes, seemingly gathering strength to go on. “The worst pain in our lives comes from the mistakes we refuse to acknowledge—the things we’ve done that are so out of harmony with who we are that we can’t bear to look at them. We become two people in one skin, two people who can’t stand each other. The liar and the person who despises liars. The thief and the person who despises thieves. There is no pain like the pain of that battle, raging below the level of consciousness. We run from it, but it runs with us. Wherever we run, we take the battle with us.”
Mellery paced back and forth in front of the fireplace.
“Do what I said. Make a list of all the people you blame for the troubles in your life. The angrier you are with them, the better. Put down their names. The more convinced you are of your own blamelessness, the better. Write down what they did and how you were hurt. Then ask yourself how you opened the door. If your first thought is that this exercise is nonsense, ask yourself why you are so eager to reject it. Remember, this is not about absolving the other people of whatever blame is theirs. You have no power to absolve them. Absolution is God’s business, not yours. Your business comes down to one question: ‘How did I open the door?’”
He paused and looked around the room, making eye contact with as many of his guests as he could.
“‘How did I open the door?’ Your happiness for the rest of your life will depend on how honestly you answer that question.”
He stopped, seemingly exhausted, and announced a break, “for coffee, tea, fresh air, restrooms, et cetera.” As people rose from their couches and chairs and headed for the various options, Mellery looked inquiringly at Gurney, who’d remained seated.
“Did that help any?” he asked.
“It was impressive.”
“In what way?”
“You’re a hell of a good lecturer.”
Mellery nodded—neither modestly nor immodestly. “Did you
see how fragile it all is?”
“You mean the rapport you establish with your guests?”
“I guess rapport is as good a word as any, as long as you mean a combination of trust, identification, connection, openness, faith, hope, and love—and as long as you understand how delicate those flowers are, especially when they first begin to bloom.”
Gurney was having a hard time making up his mind about Mark Mellery. If the man was a charlatan, he was the best he’d ever encountered.
07-22-2012 08:43 PM
When he was the NYPD’s top homicide investigator, Dave Gurney was never comfortable with the label the press gave him: super detective. He was simply a man who, when faced with a puzzle, wanted to know. He was called to the investigative hunt by the presumptuous arrogance of murderers – by their smug belief that they could kill without leaving a trace. There was alwaysa trace, Gurney believed.
Except what if one day there wasn’t?
Dave Gurney, a few months past the Mellery case that pulled him out of retirement and then nearly killed him, is trying once again to adjust to his country house’s bucolic rhythms when he receives a call about a case so seductively bewildering that the thought of not looking into it seems unimaginable—even if his beloved wife, Madeleine, would rather he do anything but.
The facts of what has occurred are horrible: a blushing bride, newly wed to an eminent psychiatrist and just minutes from hearing her congratulatory toast, is found decapitated, her head apparently severed by a machete. Though police investigators believe that a Mexican gardener killed the young woman in a fit of jealous fury, the victim’s mother—a chilly high-society beauty—is having none of it. Reluctantly drawn in, Dave is quickly buffeted by a series of revelations that transform the bizarrely monstrous into the monstrously bizarre.
Underneath it all may exist one of the darkest criminal schemes imaginable. And as Gurney begins deciphering its grotesque outlines, some of his most cherished assumptions about himself are challenged, causing him to stare into an abyss so deep that it threatens to swallow not just him but Madeleine, too.
Desperate to protect Madeleine and bring an end to the madness, Gurney ultimately discovers that the killer has left a trace after all. Unfortunately, the revelation may come too late to save his own life.
With Shut Your Eyes Tight, John Verdon delivers on the promise of his internationally bestselling debut, Think of a Number, creating a portrait of evil let loose across generations that is as rife with moments of touching humanity as it is with spellbinding images of perversity.
07-22-2012 08:45 PM
Shut Your Eyes Tight by John Verdon
Excerpt from Chapter 7
As usual, Madeleine was first up the next morning. Gurney awoke to the hiss and gurgle of the coffee- maker—along with the sinking realization that he’d forgotten to fix her bicycle brakes.
Hard upon that pang came a sense of uneasiness about his plan to meet later that morning with Val Perry. Although he’d emphasized to Jack Hardwick that his willingness to talk to her did not imply any further commitment—that the meeting was primarily a gesture of courtesy and condolence to someone who’d suffered a dreadful loss—a cloud of second thoughts was descending on him. Pushing them aside as best he could, he showered, dressed, and strode purposefully out through the kitchen to the pantry, mum- bling good morning to Madeleine, who was sitting in her customary position at the breakfast table with a slice of toast in her hand and a book propped open in front of her. Slipping into his canvas barn jacket that he removed from its hook in the pantry, he went out the side door and headed for the tractor shed that housed their bicycles and kayaks. The sun had not yet appeared, and the morning was surprisingly raw for early September.
He rolled Madeleine’s bicycle out from behind the tractor into the light at the front of the open shed. The aluminum frame was shockingly cold. The two small wrenches he chose from the set on the shed wall were just as cold.
Cursing, twice banging his knuckles against the sharp edges of the front forks, the second time drawing blood, he adjusted the cables that controlled the position of the brake pads. Creating the
proper clearance—allowing the wheel to move freely when the brake was disengaged, yet providing adequate pressure against the rim when the brake was applied—was a trial-and-error process that he had to repeat four times to get right. Finally, with more relief than satisfaction, he declared the job done, replaced the wrenches, and headed back to the house, one hand numb and the other aching.
Passing the woodshed and the adjacent pile of logs made him wonder for the tenth time in as many days, should he rent a wood-splitter or buy one? There were disadvantages either way. The sun was still not up, but the squirrels were already engaged in their morning attack on the bird feeders, raising another question that seemed to have no happy answer. And, of course, there was the matter of the manure for the asparagus.
He went into the kitchen and ran warm water over his hands.
As the stinging subsided, he announced, “Your brakes are fixed.”
“Thank you,” said Madeleine cheerily without looking up from her book.
Half an hour later—resembling a paint-by-numbers sunset in her lavender fleece pants, pink Windbreaker, red gloves, and an orange wool hat pulled down over her ears—she went out to the shed, mounted her bike, rode slowly and bumpily down the pasture path, and disappeared onto the town road beyond the barn.
Gurney spent the next hour on a mental review of the facts of the crime as they had been related to him by Hardwick. Each time he went over the scenario, he was increasingly troubled by its theatricality, its almost-operatic excess.
At 9:00 a.m. exactly, the time appointed for his meeting with Val Perry, he went to the window to see if she might be coming up the road.
Think of the devil and the devil arrives. In this case at the wheel of a Turbo Porsche in racing green—a model Gurney thought sold for around $160,000. The sleek vehicle crept past the barn, past the pond, slowly up the pasture hillside, to the small parking area next to the house, its hugely powerful engine purring softly. With a mixture of cautious curiosity and a bit more excitement than he’d want to admit, Gurney went out to greet his guest.
The woman who emerged from the car was tall and curvaceously slim, wearing a satiny cream blouse and satiny black pants. Her shoulder-length black hair was cut in a straight bob across her fore- head like Uma Thurman’s in Pulp Fiction. She was, as Hardwick had promised, “drop-dead gorgeous.” But there was something more—a tension in her as striking as her looks.
She took in her surroundings with a few appraising glances that seemed to absorb everything and reveal nothing. An ingrained habit of circumspection, thought Gurney.
She walked toward him with the hint of a grimace—or was it the customary set of her mouth?
“Mr. Gurney, Val Perry. I appreciate your making time for me,” she said, extending her hand. “Or should I call you Detective Gurney?”
“I left the title in the city when I retired. Call me Dave.” They shook hands. The intensity of her gaze and strength of her grip surprised him. “Would you like to come inside?”
She hesitated, glancing around the garden and the small blue-stone patio. “Can we sit out here?”
The question surprised him. Even though the sun was now well above the eastern ridge in a cloudless sky and most of the dew was gone from the grass, the morning was still chilly.
“Seasonal affective disorder,” she said with an explanatory smile. “Do you know what that is?”
“Yes.” He returned her smile. “I think I have a mild case of it myself.”
“I have more than a mild case. From this time of year on, I need as much light, preferably sun, as possible. Or I really do want to kill myself. So if you don’t mind, Dave, perhaps we could sit out here?” It wasn’t really a question.
The detective part of his brain, dominant and hardwired, unaffected by the technicality of retirement, wondered about her seasonal-disorder story, wondered if there was another reason. An eccentric control need, a desire to make others conform to her whims? A desire, for whatever reason, to keep him off balance? Neurotic claustrophobia? An effort to minimize the risk of being recorded? And if being recorded was a worry, did it have a practical or paranoid basis?
He led her to the patio that separated the French doors from the asparagus bed. He indicated a couple of folding chairs on either side of a small café table Madeleine had purchased at an auction. “Is this all right?”
“It’s fine,” she said, pulling one of the chairs out from the table and sitting on it without bothering to brush off the seat.
No concern about ruining her obviously pricey slacks. Ditto the ecru leather handbag she tossed on the still-damp tabletop.
She studied his face with interest. “How much information has Investigator Hardwick already given you?”
Hard edge on the voice, hard look in the almond eyes.
“He gave me the basic facts surrounding the events leading up to and following the . . . the murder of your daughter. Mrs. Perry, if I may stop for a moment. I need to tell you before we go on how terribly sorry I am for your loss.”
At first she didn’t react at all. Then she nodded, but the movement was so slight it could have been nothing more than a tremor.
“Thank you,” she said abruptly. “I appreciate that.”
Clearly she didn’t.
“But my loss is not the issue. The issue is Hector Flores.” She articulated the name with tightened lips as though biting down defiantly on a bad tooth. “What did Hardwick tell you about him?”
“He said there was clear and convincing evidence of his guilt . . . that he was a strange, controversial character . . . that his background is still undetermined and his motivation uncertain. Current location unknown.”
“Current location unknown!” She repeated the phrase with a kind of ferocity, leaning toward him over the little table, placing her palms on the moist metal surface. Her wedding ring was a sim- ple platinum band, but her engagement ring was crowned with the largest diamond he’d ever seen. “You summed it up perfectly,” she went on, her eyes as wildly bright as the stone. “ ‘Current location unknown.’ That’s not acceptable. Not endurable. I’m hiring you to put an end to it.”
He sighed softly. “I think we may be getting a little ahead of ourselves.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” The pressure of her hands on the tabletop had turned her knuckles white.
He answered almost sleepily, an inverted reaction he’d always had to displays of emotion. “I don’t know yet if it makes any sense for me to get involved in a situation that’s the subject of an active police investigation.”
Her lips twitched into an ugly smile. “How much do you want?”
He shook his head slowly. “Didn’t you hear what I said?”
“What do you want? Name it.”
“I have no idea what I want, Mrs. Perry. There are a lot of things I don’t know.”
She took her hands off the table and placed them in her lap, interlacing the fingers as though it were a technique to maintain self-control. “I’ll keep it simple. You find Hector Flores. You arrest him or kill him. Whichever you do, I’ll give you whatever you want. Whatever you want.”
Gurney leaned back from the table, letting his gaze drift to the asparagus patch. At the far end of it, a red hummingbird feeder hung from a shepherd’s crook. He could hear the rising and falling pitch of the buzzing wings as two of the tiny birds swooped viciously at each other—each claiming sole right to the sugar water, or so it seemed. On the other hand, it might be some strange remnant of a spring mating dance, and what looked like a killer instinct might be another instinct altogether.
He made an effort to focus his attention on Val Perry’s eyes, trying to discern the reality behind the beauty—the actual contents of this perfect vessel. There was rage in her, no doubt of that. Desperation. A difficult past—he would bet on that. Regret. Loneliness, though she would not admit to the vulnerability that word implied. Intelligence. Impulsiveness and stubbornness—the impulsiveness to grab hold of something without thinking, the stubbornness to never let it go. And something darker. A hatred of her own life?
Enough, he said to himself. Too easy to confuse speculation with insight. Too easy to fall in love with a wild guess and follow it over a cliff.
“Tell me about your daughter,” he said.
Something in her expression shifted, as if she, too, were putting aside a certain train of thought.
“Jillian was difficult.” Her announcement had the dramatic tone of the opening sentence of a story read aloud. He suspected that whatever followed would be something she’d said many times before. “More than difficult,” she continued. “Jillian was dependent on medication to remain merely difficult and not utterly impossible. She was wild, narcissistic, promiscuous, conniving, vicious. Addicted to oxies, roxies, Ecstasy, and crack cocaine. A world-class liar. Dangerously precocious. Horribly attuned to the weaknesses of other people. Unpredictably violent. With an unhealthy passion for unhealthy men. And that’s with the benefit of the finest therapy money could buy.” Oddly excited by this litany of abuse, she sounded more like a sadist hacking at a stranger with a razor than a mother describing the emotional disorders of her child. “Did Hardwick tell you what I’m telling you about Jillian?” she asked.
“I don’t recall those specific details.”
“What did he tell you?”
“He mentioned that she came from a family with a lot of money.” She made a loud, grating sound—a sound he was surprised to hear coming from so delicate a mouth. He was even more surprised to realize that it was a burst of laughter.
“Oh, yes!” she cried, the harshness of the laugh still in her voice. “We’re definitely a family with a lot of money. You might say we have a shitload of it.” She articulated the vulgarity with a contemptuous relish. “Does it shock you that I don’t sound the way a bereaved parent is supposed to sound?”
“I’ve seen stranger reactions to death than yours, Mrs. Perry. I’m not sure how we’re . . . how someone in your circumstances . . . is supposed to sound.”
She seemed to be considering this. “You say you’ve seen stranger reactions to death, but have you ever seen a stranger death? A stranger death than Jillian’s?”
He didn’t answer. The question sounded histrionic. The more Gurney looked into those intense eyes, the harder it became to assemble what he saw into one personality. Had she always been so fragmented, or was there something about her daughter’s murder that broke her into these incompatible pieces?
“Tell me more about Jillian,” he said.
“Apart from the personal characteristics you mentioned, do you know anything about your daughter’s life that might have given this Flores a motive for killing her?”
“You’re asking me why Hector Flores did what he did? I have no idea. Neither do the police. They’ve spent the past four months bouncing back and forth between two theories, both idiotic. One is that Hector was gay, secretly in love with Scott Ashton, resentful of Jillian’s relationship with him, and driven by jealousy to kill her. And the opportunity to kill her in her wedding dress would be irresistible to his drama-queen sensibility. Makes a nice story. Their other theory contradicts the first. A marine engineer and his wife lived next door to Scott. The engineer was away a lot on ships. The wife disappeared the same time Hector did. So the police geniuses conclude that they were having an affair, which Jillian found out about and threatened to reveal to get back at Hector, with whom she was also having an affair, and one thing led to another, and—”
“And he cut off her head at the wedding reception to keep her quiet?” Gurney broke in, incredulous. Hearing himself, he immediately regretted the brutality of the comment and was about to apologize.
But Val Perry showed no reaction to it. “I told you, they’re morons. According to them, Hector Flores was either a closeted homosexual pining madly for the love of his employer or a macho Latino screwing every woman in sight and using his machete on anyone who objected. Maybe they’ll flip a coin to decide which fairy tale they believe.”
“How much contact did you personally have with Flores?”
“None. I never had the pleasure of meeting him. Unfortunately, I have a very vivid picture of him in my mind. He lives there in my mind, with no other address. As you said, ‘current location un- known.’ I have a feeling he’ll live there until he’s captured or dead. With your help I look forward to solving that problem.”
“Mrs. Perry, you used the word ‘dead’ a few times, so I need to make something clear, so there’s no misunderstanding. I’m not a hit man. If that’s part of the assignment, spoken or unspoken, you need to look elsewhere—starting now.”
She studied his face. “The assignment is to find Hector Flores . . . and bring him to justice. That’s it. That’s the assignment.”
“Then I need to ask you . . .” he began, then stopped as a grayish brown movement in the pasture caught his attention. A coyote— likely the one he’d seen the day before—was crossing the field. He followed its progress until it disappeared into the maple copse on the far side of the pond.
“What is it?” she asked, turning in her chair.
“Maybe a loose dog. Sorry for the distraction. What I want to know is, why me? If the money supply is as unlimited as you say, you could hire a small army. Or you could hire people who would be, shall we say, less careful about the fugitive’s availability for trial. So why me?”
“Jack Hardwick recommended you. He said you were the best. The very best. He said if anyone could get to the bottom of it— resolve it, end it—you could.”
“And you believed him?”
“Shouldn’t I have?”
“Why did you?”
She considered this for a while, as though a great deal depended on the answer. “He was the initial officer on the case. The chief investigator. I found him rude, obscene, cynical, jabbing people with the sharp end of a stick whenever he could. Horrible. But almost always right. This may not make much sense to you, but I understand dreadful people like Jack Hardwick. I even trust them. So here we are, Detective Gurney.”
07-22-2012 08:46 PM
Excerpt #2 (pp. 278-285)
The magic Mr. Jykynstyl
The weather remained perfect for Gurney’s late-morning drive from the Catskills to New York City. As he sped down the thruway, the crisp air and clear sky energized his thoughts, made him optimistic about the impact he’d had on Kline and, to a lesser extent, on Rodriguez.
He wanted to follow up with Kline, find a way to ensure that he’d be kept in the loop. And he wanted to call Val, bring her up to date. But he also needed, right then and there, to give some thought to the meeting he was heading for. The meeting with the man from “the art world.” A man who wanted to give him a hundred thousand dollars for a graphically enhanced portrait of a lunatic. A man who might very well be a lunatic himself.
The address Sonya had given him turned out to be a brownstone residence in the middle of a hushed, tree-shaded block in Manhattan’s East Sixties. The neighborhood exuded the aroma of money, a genteel miasma that insulated the place from the bustle of the avenues around it.
He parked in a no-parking zone directly in front of the building— as she had instructed him, passing along Jykynstyl’s assurance that there would be no problem, that the car would be taken care of.
An oversize black-enameled front door led into an ornately tiled and mirrored vestibule, which led to a second door. Gurney was about to press the bell on the wall next to it when it was opened by a striking young woman. At second glance he realized that she was a rather ordinary-looking young woman whose overall appearance was elevated, or at least dominated, by extraordinary eyes—eyes that were now assessing him as one might assess the cut of a sport jacket or the freshness of a pie on a bakery shelf.
“Are you the artist?” He caught something volatile in her tone, something he couldn’t quite identify.
“I’m Dave Gurney.”
“Follow me.” They entered a large foyer. There was a coatrack, an umbrella stand, several closed doors, and a broad mahogany staircase rising to the next floor. The dark luster of her hair matched the dark wood. She led him past the staircase to a door, which she opened to reveal a small elevator with its own separate sliding door.
“Come,” she said with a slight smile that he found oddly disconcerting.
They got in, the door slid shut without a sound, and the elevator rose with hardly any sensation of motion.
Gurney broke the silence. “Who are you?”
She turned toward him, her remarkable eyes amused by some private joke. “I’m his daughter.” The elevator had stopped so smoothly that Gurney hadn’t felt it. The door slid open. She stepped out. “Come.”
The room was furnished in the style of an opulent Victorian parlor. Large-leafed tropical plants stood in floor pots at each side of a large fireplace. Several others stood next to armchairs. Beyond a wide arch at one end was a formal dining room, with table, chairs, sideboard, and carved woodwork, all of deeply polished mahogany. Dark green damask curtains covered the tall windows in both rooms, obscuring the time of day, the time of year—creating the illusion of an elegant, unanchored world where cocktails were always about to be served.
“Welcome, David Gurney. So good of you to come so far so quickly.”
Gurney followed the oddly accented voice to its source: a colorless little man dwarfed by the enormous leather club chair in which he was seated next to a towering rain-forest plant. He held in his small hand a diminutive cordial glass filled with a pale green liqueur.
“Forgive me if I don’t rise to greet you. I have difficulty with my back. Perversely, it is worst in the best weather. A troublesome mystery, no? Please seat yourself.” He gestured toward a matching chair facing his across a small Oriental rug. He wore faded jeans and a burgundy sweatshirt. His hair was short, thin, gray, perfunctorily combed. His hooded eyes created a superficial impression of sleepy detachment.
“You would like a drink. One of the girls will bring you something.” His indefinite accent seemed to have multiple European origins. “Myself, I have made again the mistake of choosing absinthe.” He raised his greenish liqueur and regarded it as one might a dis- loyal friend. “I do not recommend it. Since it has become legal and perfectly safe, it has, in my opinion, lost its soul.” He put the glass to his lips and drained off about half the contents. “Why do I keep going back to it? An interesting question. Perhaps I am a sentimentalist. But you, obviously, are no such thing. You are a great detective, a man of clarity, unencumbered by foolish attachments. So no absinthe for you. But something else. Whatever you would like.”
“A small glass of water?”
“L’acqua minerale? Ein Mineralwasser? L’eau gazéifiée?”
“Of course.” His sudden grin was as bright as bleached bones. “I should have known.” He raised his voice only slightly, in the way of someone accustomed to having servants in his vicinity. “A glass of cold tap water for our guest.” The strangely smiling girl who called herself his daughter left the room.
Gurney sat calmly in the chair to which the little man had directed him. “Why should you have known that I’d want tap water?”
“Because of what Ms. Reynolds told me of your character. You frown at that. That also I should have predicted. You look at me with your detective eyes. You ask yourself, ‘How much does this Jykynstyl know about me? How much has the Reynolds woman told him?’ Am I right?”
“You’re way ahead of me. I was just wondering about the connection between tap water and my character.”
“She told me that you are so complicated inside that you like to keep things simple on the outside. You agree with this?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“That’s very good,” he said, like an expert savoring an interesting wine. “She also warned me that you are always thinking and you always know more than you say.”
Gurney shrugged. “Is that a problem?”
Music began playing in the background, so softly that its low notes were hardly audible. It was a sad, slow, pastoral melody on a cello. Its whispered presence in the room reminded Gurney of the English garden scents that subtly penetrated the interior of Scott Ashton’s house.
The wispy-haired little man smiled and sipped his absinthe. A young woman with a dramatic figure on display in low-cut jeans and an even lower-cut T-shirt entered the room through the arch at the far end and approached Gurney with a crystal glass of water on a silver tray. She had the eyes and mouth of a cynic twice her age. As Gurney took the glass, Jykynstyl was answering his question.
“It’s certainly not a problem for me. I love a man of substance, a man whose mind is larger than his mouth. This is the kind of man you are, no?” When Gurney didn’t answer, Jykynstyl laughed. It was a dry, humorless sound. “I see that you are also a man who likes to get to the point. You want to know exactly why we are here. Very well, David Gurney. Here is the point: I am perhaps your greatest fan. Why am I? For two reasons. First, I believe that you are a great portrait artist. Second, I intend to make a lot of money on your work. Please notice which of these reasons I put first. I can tell from the work you’ve done already that you have a rare talent for bring- ing the mind of a man into the lines of his face, for letting the soul show through the eyes. This is a talent that thrives on purity. It is not the talent of a man who is mad for money or attention, a man who strives to be agreeable, a man who talks too much. It is the talent of a man who values the truth in all his affairs—business, professional, artistic. I suspected you were such a man, but I wanted to be sure.” He held Gurney’s steady gaze for what seemed like a very long time before going on. “What would you like for lunch? There is cold sea bass rémoulade, a lime seviche of shellfish, quenelles de veau, a lovely Kobe steak tartare—whichever you prefer, or perhaps a bit of each?”
As he spoke, he began slowly extricating himself from his chair. He paused, searching for a place to deposit his little glass, shrugged, and placed it delicately into the overgrown plant pot next to him. Then, grasping the arms of his chair with both hands, he pushed himself with considerable effort to his feet and led the way through the arched doorway to the dining room.
The most arresting feature of the space was a life-size portrait in a gilded frame hanging in the center of the long wall facing the arch. Gurney’s limited knowledge of art history placed its source somewhere in the Dutch Renaissance.
“It is remarkable, no?” said Jykynstyl.
“I’m glad you like it. I will tell you about it as we eat.”
Two places were set across from each other at the table. The entrées that Jykynstyl had named were arrayed between them on four china platters, along with bottles of Puligny-Montrachet and Château Latour, wines that even a non-oenophile like Gurney recognized as wildly expensive.
Gurney opted for the Montrachet and the bass, Jykynstyl for the Latour and the tartare.
“Are both of the girls your daughters?”
“That is correct, yes.”
“And you live here together?”
“From time to time. We are not a family of a fixed location. I come and go. It is the nature of my life. My daughters live here when they are not living with someone else.” He spoke of these arrangements in a tone that seemed to Gurney as deceptively casual as his sleepy gaze.
“Where do you spend most of your time?”
Jykynstyl laid his fork down on the edge of his plate as though ridding himself of an obstruction to clear expression. “I don’t think in that way, of being here for a length of time or there for another length of time. I am . . . in motion. Do you understand?”
“Your answer is more philosophical than my question. I’ll ask it another way. Do you have homes like this anywhere else?”
“Family members in other countries sometimes put me up, or they put up with me. In English you have these two phrases—close but not the same, correct? But maybe in my case they are both true.” He displayed his cold ivory smile. “So I am a homeless man with many homes.” The mongrelized accent, from nowhere and everywhere, seemed to grow stronger to reinforce his nomadic claim. “Like the wonderful Mr. Wordsworth, I wander lonely as a cloud. In search of golden daffodils. I have a good eye for these daffodils. But having a good eye is not enough. One must also look. This is my double secret, David Gurney: a good eye and I am always looking. This to me is far more important than living in a particular place. I do not live here or live there. I live in the activity, in the movement. I am not a resident. I am a searcher. This is maybe a little like your own life, your own profession. Am I right?”
“I can see your point.”
“You can see my point, but you don’t really agree with it.” He seemed more amused than offended. “And like all policemen, when it comes to questions you would rather ask them than answer them. A characteristic of your profession, is it not?”
“Yes, it is.”
He made a sound that might have been a laugh or a cough. His eyes supplied no clue as to which. “Then let me give you answers rather than questions. I am thinking you want to know why this crazy little man with the funny name wants to pay you so much money for these portraits that you do maybe pretty quickly and easily.”
Gurney felt a spark of annoyance. “Not that quickly, not that easily.” And then a spark of chagrin at voicing the objection.
Jykynstyl blinked. “No, of course not. Forgive my English. I think I speak it better than I do, but I am inadequate at the nuance. Shall I try again, or do you understand what I am trying to say?”
“I think I do.”
“So then, the basic question: Why do I offer so much money for this art of yours?” He paused, flashed the chilly grin. “Because it is worth it. And because I want it, exclusively, without competition. So I make you what I believe is a preemptive offer, an offer you can accept without question, without quibble, without negotiation. You understand?”
“I think I do.”
“Good. You noticed, I think, the painting on the wall behind me. The Holbein.”
“That’s an actual Hans Holbein?”
“Actual? Yes, of course. I do not own reproductions. What do you think of it?”
“I don’t have the right words.”
“Say the first words that come to mind.”
“Startling. Astonishing. Alive. Unnerving.”
Jykynstyl studied him for a long minute before speaking again. “Let me tell you two things. First, these words that you claim are not the right words come closer to the truth than the bullshit of the professional art critics. Second, these are the same words that came to my mind when I saw your portrait of Piggert, the murderer. The very same words. I looked into the eyes of your Peter Piggert and I could feel him in the room with me. Startling. Astonishing. Alive. Unnerving. All these things that you say about the Holbein portrait. For the Holbein I paid a little over eight million dollars. The amount is a secret, but I tell you anyway. Eight million, one hundred fifty thousand dollars—for one golden daffodil. One day, perhaps, I will sell it for three times that much. So now I pay one hundred thousand each for a few David Gurney daffodils, and one day, perhaps, I will sell them for ten times that. Who can say? You will toast this future with me, please? A toast—that we may both get from the transaction the satisfaction that we wish?”
Jykynstyl seemed to sense Gurney’s skepticism. “It only seems like a lot of money because you aren’t yet accustomed to it. It’s not because your work isn’t worth it. Remember that. You are being re- warded for your extraordinary insight and your ability to convey that insight—not unlike Hans Holbein. You are a detective not only of the criminal mind but of human nature. Why should you not be paid appropriately?”
Jykynstyl raised his glass of Latour. Gurney followed the gesture uncertainly with his Montrachet.
“To your insight and your work, to our business arrangement, and to you yourself, Detective David Gurney.”
“And to you, Mr. Jykynstyl.”
They drank. The experience surprised Gurney pleasantly. Although he was far from being a connoisseur, he thought the Montrachet was the best wine he’d ever tasted—and one of the few in his memory that ignited an instant desire for a second glass. As he finished the first, the young woman who had brought him up in the elevator appeared at his side with an odd glimmer in her eyes to provide the desired refill.
For the next few minutes, the two men ate in silence. The cold bass was wonderful, and the Montrachet only seemed to make it more so. When Sonya had broached the subject of Jykynstyl’s interest two days earlier, Gurney’s mind had wandered briefly into fantasies of what the money could buy, geographical fantasies that carried him to the northwest coast—to Seattle and Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands in the summer sun, blue sky and blue water, the Olympic Mountains on the horizon. Now that image returned, seemingly fueled by the firming up of the financial promise of the Mug Shot Art project—fueled also by the second, even more delightful, glass of Montrachet.
Jykynstyl was speaking again, lauding Gurney’s perception, his psychological subtlety, his eye for detail. But it was the rhythm of the words that captivated Gurney’s attention now, more than their meaning, the rhythm lifting him, rocking him gently. Now the young women were smiling serenely and clearing the table, and Jykynstyl was describing exotic desserts. Something creamy with rosemary and cardamom. Something silky with saffron, thyme, and cinnamon. It made Gurney smile to imagine the man’s strangely complex accent as though it were itself a dish made with seasonings not normally combined.
He felt a thrilling, and wholly uncharacteristic, rush of freedom, optimism, and pride in his accomplishments. It was the way he had always wanted to feel—full of clarity and strength. The feeling blended into the glorious blues of water and sky, a boat racing forward in full white sail on the wings of a breeze that would never die.
07-22-2012 08:47 PM
In this latest novel from bestselling author John Verdon, ingenious puzzle solver Dave Gurney puts under the magnifying glass a notorious serial murder case – one whose motives have been enshrined as law-enforcement dogma - and discovers that everyone has it wrong.
The most decorated homicide detective in NYPD history, Dave Gurney is still trying to adjust to his life of quasi-retirement in upstate New York when a young woman who is producing a documentary on a notorious murder spree seeks his counsel. Soon after, Gurney begins feeling threatened: a razor-sharp hunting arrow lands in his yard, and he narrowly escapes serious injury in a booby-trapped basement. As things grow more bizarre, he finds himself reexamining the case of The Good Shepherd, which ten years before involved a series of roadside shootings and a rage-against-the-rich manifesto. The killings ceased, and a cult of analysis grew up around the case with a consensus opinion that no one would dream of challenging -- no one, that is, but Dave Gurney.
Mocked even by some who’d been his supporters in previous investigations, Dave realizes that the killer is too clever to ever be found. The only gambit that may make sense is also the most dangerous – to make himself a target and get the killer to come to him.
To survive, Gurney must rely on three allies: his beloved wife Madeleine, impressively intuitive and a beacon of light in the gathering darkness; his de-facto investigative “partner” Jack Hardwick, always ready to spit in authority’s face but wily when it counts; and his son Kyle, who has come back into Gurney’s life with surprising force, love and loyalty.
Displaying all the hallmarks for which the Dave Gurney series is lauded -- well-etched characters, deft black humor, and ingenious deduction that ends in a climactic showdown – Let the Devil Sleep is something more: a reminder of the power of self-belief in a world that contains too little of it.
07-22-2012 08:49 PM
From the Internationally Bestselling Author of
Think of a Number and Shut Your Eyes Tight
LET THE DEVIL SLEEP
by John Verdon
Advance Praise for LET THE DEVIL SLEEP
“Verdon, who rejuvenated the impossible crime in his 2010 debut Think of a Number, shows there’s much more that can be done with the serial killer plot in his breakneck, knockout third Dave Gurney whodunit. . . . The tension is palpable on virtually every page of a story that perfectly balances the protagonist’s complex inner life with an elaborately constructed puzzle.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Since John Verdon emerged on the literary scene in 2010 and introduced readers to the character of retired NYPD detective Dave Gurney, comparisons have been made to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and the works of Stieg Larsson and Raymond Chandler. Verdon’s fans include fellow writers such as David Baldacci, Tess Gerritsen, Nelson DeMille, and Joseph Finder, and his work has been praised by critics at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN, among others. Beginning with his internationally bestselling debut Think of a Number (2010) and followed by the acclaimed Shut Your Eyes Tight (2011), Verdon has been lauded for creating intricate, complex puzzles that challenge his readers with each turn of the page. This summer, Dave Gurney returns in LET THE DEVIL SLEEP: A Novel (Crown; July 24, 2012), and Verdon demonstrates again why he is regarded as one of the genre’s most inventive writers.
LET THE DEVIL SLEEP finds Dave Gurney in bad shape. It’s been a few months since he solved the infamous Jillian Perry murder case, but the physical and mental damage he sustained during those hellish days has taken its toll. Seeing Gurney falling deeper and deeper into a depression, Madeleine Gurney will do anything to help her husband get back to his old self—even if that means taking on a new case. So when Connie Clarke, the journalist whose New York magazine story turned Gurney into the superstar detective of the NYPD, calls to ask a favor of Gurney, it’s Madeleine who encourages him to help. As Connie explains, her daughter Kim is about to graduate from journalism school, and her final project, a documentary about the families of murder victims, has captured the interest of a major television network. Kim has been interviewing the families of the victims of “the Good Shepherd.” A serial killer who began his killing spree a decade earlier, the Good Shepherd claimed six lives in a series of bizarre roadside shootings and then disappeared; and now RAM-TV wants to mark the ten-year anniversary of the murders with Kim’s series, entitled The Orphans of Murder. Kim is looking for a consultant, someone with a professional background in police work to provide some needed guidance and credibility, and Connie is hoping Gurney might take on the task.
Gurney reluctantly agrees, but as soon as he becomes involved, peculiar things start to happen. There is an odd problem with the brake on his tractor, he hears strange noises in the night, and he finds a razor-sharp hunting arrow in Madeleine’s flower bed. As events take a more threatening turn, Gurney takes a closer look at the Good Shepherd case—and quickly finds himself at odds with the FBI’s core conclusions. As he probes deeper, uncovering serious discrepancies, he arouses the ire of the original investigatory team and turns some former allies into enemies.
His most dangerous enemy of all, however, turns out to be the Good Shepherd himself. Though no one wants to believe it, the once dormant serial killer appears to have come back to life—and this time his sights are set on Gurney.
Verdon is a master puzzle-maker, and his talent shines as he creates an elaborate maze for his reader to navigate, culminating in an explosive conclusion. LET THE DEVIL SLEEP is sure to confirm his position in today’s top tier of thriller writers.
About the Author
John Verdon, a former Manhattan advertising executive, lives with his wife in the mountains of upstate New York. His first two Dave Gurney novels are Think of a Number and Shut Your Eyes Tight. Let the Devil Sleep is his third.
07-22-2012 08:50 PM
Let the Devil Sleep by John Verdon
EXCLUSIVE Excerpt (pp. 67-74)
Forty minutes later, with two large coffees in the car, Gurney was driving up the twisty dirt road that led from Abelard’s General Store in Dillweed to an even twistier dirt road, hardly a road at all—more like an abandoned cattle path—at the end of which Jack Hardwick lived in a small rented farmhouse. Gurney parked next to Hardwick’s attitude car—a partially restored red 1970 Pontiac GTO.
The sparse, intermittent snowflakes had been replaced by a pin-pricky mist. As Gurney stepped up onto the creaking porch, one coffee container in each hand, the door swung open to reveal Hardwick in a T-shirt and cutoff sweatpants, his shaggy gray crew cut uncombed. They’d seen each other face-to-face only once since Gurney’s hospitalization six months earlier, at a state-police inquiry into the shooting, but Hardwick’s opening line was characteristic.
“So tell me—how the **bleep** do you know little Kimmy?”
Gurney extended one of the coffees. “Through her mother. You want this?”
Hardwick took it, opened the flap on the lid, tasted it. “Is the mom as hot as the kid?”
“For Christ’s sake, Jack . . .”
“That a yes or a no?” Hardwick stepped back to let Gurney in.
The outer doorway led directly into a large front room that Gurney would have expected to be furnished as a living room, but it was hardly furnished at all. The pair of leather armchairs with a stack of books between them on a bare pine floor looked more like things about to be moved than a planned seating arrangement.
Hardwick was watching him. “Marcy and I broke up,” he said, as if explaining the emptiness of the place.
“Sorry to hear that. Who’s Marcy?”
“Good question. Thought I knew. Apparently not.” He took a longer sip of his coffee. “I must have a big blind spot when it comes to evaluating loony women with nice **bleep**.” Another sip, even longer. “But so what? We’ve all got our blind spots, right, Davey?”
Gurney had figured out long ago that the part of Hardwick that went through him like a needle was the part that reminded him of his father—this despite the fact that Gurney was currently forty-eight and Hardwick, although gray-haired and roughly weathered, was not quite forty.
Every so often Hardwick would hit the precise note of cynicism, the perfect echo, that would transport Gurney back into the apartment from whose high window he’d shot that inexplicable arrow, the apartment from which his first marriage had provided an escape.
The image that came to him now: He was standing in their cramped apartment’s living room, his father dispensing drunken wisdom, telling him his mother was loony, telling him all women were loony, couldn’t be trusted. Best not to tell them anything. “You and I are men, Davey, we understand each other. Your mother’s a little . . . a little off, you know what I mean? No need for her to know I was drinking today, right? Only cause trouble. We’re men. We can talk to each other.” Gurney was eight years old.
The forty-eight-year-old Gurney made an effort to return to Hard- wick’s living room, to the moment at hand.
“She helped herself to half the shit in the house,” said Hardwick. He took another sip, sat in one of the armchairs, waved Gurney toward the other one. “What can I do for you?”
Gurney lowered himself into the chair. “Kim’s mother is a journalist I know from years ago on the job. She asked me for a favor—‘Look over Kim’s shoulder’ is the way she put it. Now I’m trying to find out what I’m involved in, thought maybe you could help. Like I said on the phone, Kim listed you as a source.”
Hardwick stared at his coffee container as if it were a perplexing artifact. “Who else is on her list?”
“FBI guy by the name of Trout. And Max Clinter, the cop who **bleep**ed up the pursuit of the shooter.”
Hardwick let out a harsh bray that turned into a fit of coughing. “Wow! The uptight prick of the century and a psycho drunk. I’m in hot-shit company.”
Gurney took a long swallow from his coffee container. “When do we get to the colorful, significant tidbits?”
Hardwick extended his scarred, muscular legs and leaned far back in his chair. “Stuff the press never got hold of?”
“I guess one thing would be the little animals. You didn’t know about those, did you?”
“Little plastic replicas. Part of a set. An elephant. A lion. A giraffe. A zebra. A monkey. A sixth one I can’t remember.”
“And how were these—”
“One was found at the scene of each attack.”
“In the general vicinity of the victim’s car.”
“Yeah, like they’d been tossed there from the shooter’s car.”
“Lab work on these little animals lead anywhere?”
“No prints, nothing like that.”
“But they were part of a kid’s play set. Something called Noah’s World. Like one of those diorama things. The kid builds a model of Noah’s Ark, then he puts the animals in it.”
“Any distribution angle, stores, factory variables, ways of tracing that particular set?”
“Dead end. Very popular toy. A Walmart staple. They sold like seventy-eight thousand of them. All identical, all made in one factory in Hung Dick.”
“China. Who the **bleep** knows? It doesn’t matter. The sets are all the same.”
“Any theories regarding the significance of those individual animals?”
“Lots of them. All bullshit.”
Gurney made a mental note to readdress that issue later. When later? What the hell was he thinking? The plan was to look over Kim’s shoulder. Not volunteer for a job no one had asked him to do.
“Interesting,” said Gurney. “Any other little oddities that weren’t released for public consumption?”
“I suppose you could call the gun an oddity.”
“My recollection is that the news reports just referred to a large-caliber handgun.”
“It was a Desert Eagle.”
“The .50-caliber monster?”
“The very one.”
“The profilers must have zeroed in on that.”
“Oh, yeah, big-time. But the oddity wasn’t just the size of the weapon. Out of the six shootings, we retrieved two bullets in good enough shape for reliable ballistics and a third that would be marginal for courtroom use but definitely suggestive.”
“Suggestive of what?”
“The three bullets came from three different Desert Eagles.”
“That was the reaction everyone had.”
“Did that ever lead to a multiple-shooter hypothesis?”
“For about ten minutes. Arlo Blatt came up with one of his dumber-than-dumb ideas: that the shootings might be some kind of gang-initiation ritual and every gang member had his own Desert Eagle. Of course, that left the little problem of the manifesto, which read like it was written by a college professor, and your average gang member can barely spell the word ‘gang.’ Some other people had less stupid ideas, but ultimately the single-shooter concept won out. Especially after it was blessed by the Behavioral Unit geniuses at the FBI. The attack scenes were essentially identical. The approach, shooting, and escape reconstructions were identical. And after a little psychological tweaking of their model, it made as much sense to the profilers for this guy to be using six Desert Eagles as it made for him to be using one.”
Gurney responded only with a pained expression. He’d had mixed experiences with profilers over the years and tended to regard their achievements as no more than the achievements of common sense and their failures as proof of the vacuity of their profession. The problem with most profilers, especially those with a streak of FBI arrogance in their DNA, was that they thought they actually knew something and that their speculations were scientific.
“In other words,” said Gurney, “using six outrageous guns is no more outrageous than using one outrageous gun, because outrageous is outrageous.”
Hardwick grinned. “There’s one final oddity. All of the victims’ cars were black.”
“A popular Mercedes color, isn’t it?”
“Basic black accounted for about thirty percent of the total production runs of the models involved, plus maybe another three percent for a metallic variant of black. So a third—thirty-three percent. The odds, then, would be that two of the six vehicles attacked would have been black—unless the color black were part of the shooter’s selection criteria.”
“Why would color be a factor?”
Hardwick shrugged, tilting his coffee container and draining the last of it into his mouth. “Another good question.”
They sat quietly for a minute. Gurney was trying to connect the “oddities” in some way that might explain them all, then gave up, realizing he would need to know a lot more before such random details could be arranged into a pattern.
“Tell me what you know about Max Clinter.”
“Maxie is a special kind of guy. A mixed blessing.”
“He’s got a history.” Hardwick looked thoughtful, then let out a
grating laugh. “I’d love to see you guys get together. Sherlock the Logical Genius meets Ahab the Whale Chaser.”
“The whale in question being . . . ?”
“The whale being the Good Shepherd. Maxie always had a tendency to sink his teeth into something and not let go, but after the little mishap that ended his career, he became a walking definition of demented determination. Catching the Good Shepherd was not the main purpose of his life, it was the only purpose. Made a lot people back away.” Hardwick gave Gurney a sideways look, accompanied by another rough laugh. “Be fun to see you and Ahab shoot the shit.”
“Jack, anybody ever tell you your laugh sounds like someone flush- ing a toilet?”
“Not anybody who was asking me for a favor.” Hardwick rose from his chair, brandishing his empty coffee container. “It’s a miracle how fast the human body converts this stuff into piss.” He headed out of the room.
He returned a couple of minutes later and perched on the arm of his chair, speaking as though there’d been no interruption. “If you want to know about Maxie, best place to start would be the famous Buffalo mob incident.”
“Famous in our little upstate world. Important Big Apple dicks like you probably never even heard about it.”
“There was a mob guy in Buffalo by the name of Frankie Benno, who had organized the resurgence of heroin in western New York. Everyone knew this, but Frankie was smart and careful and protected by a handful of scumbag politicians. The situation started to obsess Maxie. He was determined to bring Frankie in for questioning, even though he couldn’t find anything specific to charge him with. He decided to bring things to a head by ‘harassing the **bleep**er into making a mistake’—that was the last thing Maxie said to his wife before he went to a restaurant that was a known hangout for Frankie’s people, in a building that Frankie owned.”
Gurney’s first thought was that “harassing the **bleep**er into making a mistake” was a tricky objective. His second thought was that he’d done it often enough himself, except he called it “putting the suspect under pressure to observe his reactions.”
Hardwick went on. “Maxie goes into the restaurant dressed and acting like a thug. He goes straight into the back room where Frankie’s crew hung out when they weren’t busy cracking heads. There’s two wiseguys in the room, sucking up linguine in clam sauce. Maxie walks over to them, pulls out a gun and a little disposable camera. He tells the wiseguys they have a choice: They can have their picture taken with their brains blown out or they can have it taken giving each other blow jobs. Up to them. Their choice. They have ten seconds to decide. They can grab each other’s cocks or their brains are on the wall. Ten . . . nine...eight...seven...six...”
Hardwick leaned toward Gurney, eyes sparkling, seemingly enthralled by the events he was recounting. “But Maxie is standing kinda close to them—too close—and one of the wiseguys reaches out and grabs the gun away from him. Maxie backs away and falls on his ass. The wiseguys are about to stomp the shit out of him, but Maxie suddenly drops the thug routine and starts screaming that he’s not what he was pretending to be, he’s really just an actor. He says somebody put him up to it, and nobody would have gotten hurt anyway, because the gun isn’t even real, it’s a stage prop. He’s practically crying. The wiseguys check the gun. Sure enough, it’s a fake. So now they want to know what the **bleep**’s going on, who put him up to it, et cetera. Maxie claims he doesn’t know, but that he’s supposed to meet the guy the next day to give him back the camera with the blow-job pictures and get five grand for his trouble. One of the wiseguys goes out to a pay phone on the street—this is before everybody had cell phones. When he comes back in, he tells Maxie they’re going to take him upstairs because Mr. Benno is upset. Maxie looks like he’s about to shit in his pants, begs them please just let him go. But they take him upstairs. Upstairs there’s a fortified office. Steel doors, locks, cameras. Major security. Frankie Benno is up there with two other wiseguys. When they bring Maxie into the inner sanctum, Frankie gives him a long, hard look. Then a nasty smile—like a great idea has just dawned on him. He says, ‘Take off your clothes.’ Maxie starts to whine like a baby. Frankie says, ‘Take off your **bleep**ing clothes and give me the **bleep**ing camera.’ Maxie gives him the camera, backs up against the wall like he’s trying to get as far away from these guys as he can. He takes off his jacket and shirt, then drops his pants. But his shoes are still on. So he sits down on the floor and starts pushing his pants down, but they’re caught up in a bunch around his ankles. Frankie tells him to hurry up. Frankie’s four wiseguys are grinning. Suddenly Maxie’s hands come up from the pants around his ankles, and in each hand he’s got a neat little SIG .38 pistol.” Hardwick paused dramatically. “What do you think of that?”
The first thing he thought about was his own concealed Beretta.
Then he thought about Clinter. Although the man was definitely a gambler and probably a little nuts, he knew how to create a layered narrative and how to manage it under pressure. He knew how to manipulate vicious and impulsive people, how to make them reach the conclusions he wanted them to reach. For an undercover cop—or a magician—there was no set of skills more valuable than that. But Gurney could sense something lurking in the arc of the story—something that foretold an ugly ending.
Hardwick continued. “Exactly what happened next was the subject of an extensive Bureau investigation. But in the final analysis all they really had was Max’s word for it. He said simply that he’d believed his life was in immediate danger and he’d acted accordingly, with force appropriate to the circumstances. Bottom line, he left five dead mob- sters in that office and walked away without a scratch on him. From that day until the night five years later when he flushed it all down the toilet, Max Clinter had an aura of invincibility.”
“Do you know what he’s doing now, how he supports himself?”
Hardwick grinned. “Yeah. He’s a gun dealer. Unusual guns. Collectibles. Crazy military shit. Maybe even Desert Eagles.”
07-22-2012 08:52 PM - edited 07-22-2012 08:54 PM
THREE SHOCKING NOVELS.
THREE BRILLANT KILLERS.
ONE REMARKABLE DETECTIVE.
Watch the trailer for the first Dave Gurney thriller.
"As incredible as it seems, a relatively new author with no law enforcement background has created a protagonist with insight and skills that rival the best crime solvers of all time." — New York Journal of Books
Learn more about John Verdon's characters here: http://www.johnverdon.net/pages/author.php
His website is here: http://www.johnverdon.net/pages/index.php
He's on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/authorjohnverdon
07-23-2012 09:56 AM
I have a review of the new book going up on my blog tomorrow actually. It was the first one I've read, and I loved it. I normally can't get into thrillers that much, but this one I was able o do so.
There will be a giveaway with it as well.
07-23-2012 12:28 PM
I have a review of the new book going up on my blog tomorrow actually. It was the first one I've read, and I loved it. I normally can't get into thrillers that much, but this one I was able o do so.
There will be a giveaway with it as well.
Once I start his books I can never put them down until I've read the whole thing!
07-23-2012 01:42 PM
Wow, this book sounds exciting....enough for me to look for it in the bookstore!
07-23-2012 02:39 PM
How could that happen?
by John Verdon
One silent winter morning many years ago I was sitting at my breakfast table, gazing out through the French doors over a broad snow-covered field that separated my house from a thousand-acre forest. No other human structures were visible from where I sat.
In that perfect stillness and seclusion a strange image came to mind. Across the pristine expanse of newly fallen snow, I pictured a solitary trail of footprints. In my mind’s eye, the footprints angled out from the far edge of the woods into the middle of the huge field. And there they stopped, without any visible explanation. Those footprints, moving in only one direction, were the only marks anywhere on the smooth white blanket of snow.
The thought fascinated me. How could footprints in a field of snow just stop, end, right out there in the middle of nowhere, a hundred or more yards from the woods where they originated?
Thinking about it gave me just a hint of gooseflesh.
Short of mystical dematerialization or a helicopter intervention, how could the creator of the footprints vanish into thin air?
As I sipped my coffee and pondered the question, it struck me that those imagined footprints, along with the creepy sense of bafflement they provoked, would make a good opening for a mystery story.
I jotted down the essentials on an index card and stuck it in a big manilla envelope where I was in the habit of stashing ideas for Lord-only-knew what future use.
Years later, however, I happened to find the perfect place for that unsettling little footprints puzzle. It became a key part of the initial murder scene in my first Dave Gurney thriller, Think of a Number.
I’ve built similar brain teasers into my subsequent novels, Shut Your Eyes Tight and Let the Devil Sleep. Why do I continue to invent and include these challenging situations?
The easy answer is that I like to write the kind of stories that I like to read, and “impossible” crime scenes have always fascinated me, especially when they incorporate a touch of the bizarre.
The deeper answer might be that I believe our brains are essentially puzzle-deciphering machines, and they derive a special pleasure from the exercise -- perhaps like a natural retriever enjoys chasing a ball.
That may explain the appeal of the puzzle. But what about that “touch of the bizarre”?
That may be a different matter. The puzzle arouses my intellect. But that flash of something slightly creepy, something weirdly out of place -- the creaking stair in the deserted house -- that arouses my emotion. In fact, it captivates me. It’s the moment I wait for in every mystery story, every horror and science fiction movie -- the first moment in the story when I sense that something may be profoundly wrong, that I have entered a place of danger and uncertainty. The “announcement” could be as subtle as a character’s odd comment or inappropriate smile or as striking as the discovery of the severed ear at the beginning of Blue Velvet.
When a story combines a set of inexplicable facts with an intimation of unpredictable evil, it has the power to capture every bit of my attention. I attach myself intellectually and emotionally to the detective, and I sign on for the ride to the finish.
For me, it’s that special combination that creates the magic.
That’s probably the reason that I find some examples of Golden Age detective literature that place exclusive emphasis on the clever puzzle aspect of limited appeal. Similarly, I don’t find myself attracted to eerie thrillers that focus on a claustrophobic world of dread and blood and things that go bump in the night, with little power given to logical process.
The ideal balance, of course, is a matter of taste, widely variable from reader to reader. In interviews I often speak of my fondness for Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. For me, that story represents the best in mystery writing, creating an ideal mixture of intellectual analysis and emotional frisson. But, as I say, that’s for me.
I can only hope that the particular blend of the brainy and the bizarre that I personally favor and try to incorporate in my Dave Gurney novels continues to find a welcome place in the minds and hearts of my readers.
Incidentally, I’m working on the fourth book in the series right now, and I’m happy to report that it begins with an unnerving murder in a graveyard that couldn’t possibly have been committed the only way it could have been committed.
07-23-2012 02:41 PM
Thanks for a great blog, John! I always liked "locked room mysteries" but you take those to a whole new level. I just about drove myself crazy trying to solve the impossible mysteries in your books. I'm really excited to hear that more books are coming in this series!
07-23-2012 07:43 PM