Sunday, January 1, 2012

"Think Of A Number" by John Verdon

Dave Gurney is a retired homicide detective who is contacted by an old college friend (from some twenty-five years ago) about some weird letters he has been receiving. The letter asks him to think of a number, and when he opens a smaller envelope - there is that number! More letters follow, until the point where the friend winds up dead in a bizarre crime scene.

Despite his wife Madeleine not being too happy about him being pulled back into the world of homicide, Gurney finds that this is a puzzle he just has to solve. His previous good reputation gets him onto the team as an investigator for the district attorney, where he is given almost free reign to follow the clues. Sure enough, another similar murder eventually occurs. How can this killer know what number his victims will think of? What connects all of the victims?

Unfortunately, the answer isn't as interesting or exciting as what is set up by the plot. "Think Of A Number" is a disappointinly slow and routine story. For me, the intrigue was behind what made the killer sure that his victims would think of a particular number. But the author seems far more focused on explaining the ins and outs of how the killer set up his bizarre crime scenes. It made for very dry reading and really not that far removed from countless other novels in this genre that put emphasis on forensic accuracy. The solution to the "think of a number" scenario is disappoiningly obvious and dull (and randomly figured out by the characters during a single brain-storming session late in the novel).

Characterisation is another major flaw here. Navel-gazing, thy name is Dave Gurney. Get over yourself, buddy. If we're going to spend all our time with a character, make him at least a little interesting. Being haunted by a dead son, and nagged by a wife who doesn't like his job, is something seen far too often in this genre, and Verdon doesn't do anything new with it here. Wife Madeleine may seem to provide some arbitrary inspirations for Dave to solve a particular clue, but other than that her sole function is to make Dave feel bad for doing something he genuinely enjoys. Great character! Similarly, the people who make up the police teams that Dave works with are all strident, arrogant and prickly, with huge chips on their shoulders. Almost all of the dialogue in the novel is adversary in nature. It gets tiresome.

The novel is refreshingly well-plotted in that the clues are all there to be figured out if you're paying attention. No arbitrary Unfortunately, because the pace was so stifling and the characters so unappealing, I wasn't really paying as much attention as I should. I'm surprised by the number of raving reviews this has received - intelligent plotting still needs suspense, decent pacing and interesting characters. Think of another book to read.

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