Counterpoint, 400 pages, $28
I’ve read almost every John Verdon book. He has a way of creating an authentic-sounding, ordinary world, mostly populated by ordinary people. The odd element in this ordinary picture is retired detective Dave Gurney, formerly of the NYPD, occasional consultant to various counties in upstate New York. The quiet hills and dales have erupted over the years with weirdness, ever since Dave moved in.
Dave Gurney is my detective hero: He’s meticulous, smart, knowledgeable, yet thinks outside the box. These characteristics mean Verdon must write a book-and-a-half where others would only write one book. Dave thinks and re-thinks his cases. If he “feels” things are not right, he will doggedly try to figure out what is wrong and then hound his target to ground. That sums up “On Harrow Hill.” “Hound Dog” Gurney takes off after a scent no one else gets.
Dave and his (long-suffering) wife have a well-kept home, a barn, a bunch of chickens, a field to mow, trees, sunshine, a porch, and one of them has plans for a llama enclosure. Hint: It’s not Dave. After his adventures as an NYPD police officer and an inadvertent late-in-life career as a tracker of serial killers, Dave thinks his home is a haven. That haven has been breached in the past, but so far Dave has taken care of business. He would do happily-ever-after at home, but there has been one devilish serial killer after another crying to be caught.
How about a zombie serial killer, though?
The man who was Dave’s police partner a geologic age ago is now the chief of police at an idyllic town up the road a few hours from where Dave lives. He begs for Dave’s help with a high-profile case.
Chief Mike Morgan of Larchfield is in over his head. What, he wonders, does Dave make of the following? A very rich man in his jurisdiction has died. The man is so rich, he IS the town of Larchfield. He is old and has a young, sullen wife. Or had. He is dead, killed in his bedroom, his throat slit from side to side. His wife heard nothing from her bedroom. Enter Dave to do a favor for his former partner.
There’s a catch. Shortly after Dave’s arrival, fresh fingerprints found in the victim’s room are determined to belong to a dead man.
When all pertinent authorities immediately gallop to the morgue where the body is supposedly stored, they find a broken casket — broken from the inside — along with stolen scalpels and the gruesome possibility that Billy Tate has risen from the dead. People saw him die by lightening and a serious fall. The doctor pronounced him dead. On the other hand, the doctor has been known to tipple, and it was kind of dark when “Billy” fell. Whatever, the morgue video reveals someone breaking out of the morgue — someone who bears a resemblance to, gulp, Billy Tate …
Larchfield, home to millionaires and their manicured gardens, is suddenly the hotspot for news organizations trying to get a story on the zombie killer.
It’s up to Dave to use his logic. That’s a tall order when another victim is found, with another sighting of the zombie.
Eventually, the mystery appears to be solved, but there are many more pages of the book to go. That is because Dave has a “feeling.” It takes him a while to realize what makes him so uneasy. Then we get a second denouement more in line with the other Dave Gurney books: a spectacular, bang-bang-shoot-‘em-up final twist.