Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Think of a Number, by John Verdon ($7.99)

On the way to reading something else, I was waylaid by this book. I'll just read a few pages, was the last thing I remember thinking. Remember the puzzles that caught your attention in The Da Vinci Code? This book has them as well: puzzles and clues you can actually follow and solve.

First person narrative, too much dialogue, or too little dialogue and lots of chase scenes seem to be the norm these days. Think of a Number is refreshing in its retro use of third person ruminations.

Dave Gurney is an unsuccessfully retired police detective. He has moved from fast-paced NYC to bucolic rural upstate New York. He and his wife, Madeleine, are seeking nature, peace, and quiet. But Dave is still driven by an inner need to exercise his powers of observation and deduction. He was a star at what he did: putting away serial killers. His restlessness is rooted in unresolved personal issues, and Dave is mentally running away as fast as he can from thinking about them.

Through it all, Madeleine has stuck with him, but her motives and thinking are murky. I never quite got a handle on her saintly, patient presence, or on her passive-aggressive goading of her husband. Although Dave is the expert -- his logic is noted ad nauseam -- it is Madeleine who provides insight into some of the puzzles.

Dave is contacted by Mark Mellery, an acquaintance from college, when he receives strange and unsettling letters. The first letter asks Mark to think of a number. A note enclosed with the letter correctly predicts the number Mark has chosen. How is that possible? Further communications are more intrusive, claiming inside knowledge of wrongs Mark has committed. Mark does not want to go to the police because of his current high profile in the community, so he asks Dave to find the prospective blackmailer.

Since I want you to be surprised, I'll stop there with the actual plot description. Think outside the box is my helpful hint.

John Verdon has crafted a reasonably well written, thoughtful thriller, proving all those descriptive words can still belong together.

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