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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Peter Pan Must Die by John Verdon

Crown, 448 pages, $25

Peter Pan Must Die is the fourth in the series starring Dave Gurney, a retired NYPD detective. I really enjoyed the first book, Think of a Number, but couldn’t get into the third one, Let the Devil Sleep, primarily because of one of the characters. (She has a brief off-stage, thank goodness, mention in this book.)

Dave is a fascinating character. He is brilliant, obsessive about his cases, and clueless about social interactions. Perhaps not “clueless,” but certainly willing to ignore conventional give-and-take. He sometimes has to stop and “read” his wife’s physical cues to understand what she is saying. Sometimes he needs a psychologist to tell him. (It’s probably the best scene in the book when Dave visits a psychologist who helped him years before.)

Although Dave has retired to the country, people keep popping up and requesting his help. This time it is a local detective who was forced into retirement, he says, by a crooked cop. Jack Hardwick isn’t exactly Dave’s favorite person in the world: “He felt his jaw tightening at the prospect of a visit from the detective with whom he had such a bizarre history of near-death experiences, professional successes, and personality clashes.”

Jack has brought Dave a lost cause. Kay Spalter has been convicted of killing her rich husband, Carl. She has maintained her innocence (of course), but she, too, is not the world’s most likable character. Jack, who is trying to establish himself as a private investigator, needs Dave to help him come up with enough cause to get an appeal granted. He emphasizes that he doesn’t need Dave to prove her innocence or another’s guilt, just malfeasance or error on the part of the judge, prosecutor, or police. Dave, however, has his own way of doing things, and it is not enough for him simply to acquire the minimum cause for appeal.

All John Verdon’s books (even the one I didn’t finish) are worth reading because of Dave and the methodical way he investigates. Also, Verdon is a master twister and turner of plots.

Despite an over-the-top ending, the actual resolution of who killed Carl Spalter was great.

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