Dave Gurney is a retired NY homicide cop who was a legend for his success rate in profiling and capturing serial killers. He is now living in uneasy compromise with his wife who wants to get them both as far away from Gurney’s avocation as possible. They have moved to an idyllic rural home in upstate New York, where she enjoys longs walks, bird calls and everything nature has to offer, while Gurney has found a “hobby” in using the computer to photo-edit the faces of serial killers for presentation in art galleries. Hiding behind their uncomfortable silences and the subtext of their sparse communication is the accidental death of their six-year-old son years earlier.
When a fellow college student from 25 years ago, turned guru/advisor for the rich and disturbed, looks Gurney up seeking help in dealing with unusual threats from an unknown, Gurney leaps at the chance to get back into that thing he does so well. Only this case proves almost too much for him, starting with the tantalizing threats and, ultimately, lack of evidence surrounding the kills that follow. The threats are in the form of increasingly creepy poems that seem to reflect intimate knowledge of the target, down to what random numbers the target chooses but which the poet/predator had already predicted! When bodies start turning up, there is zero forensic evidence left at the scenes, but an abundance of clues that are as inexplicable as they are frustrating to Gurney, who is drawn like a fly into a spider’s web as the plot expands.
As a mystery lover, I was as intrigued by the crimes, which seemed to lack all rhyme and reason, as I was by the clues that Verdon sprinkles throughout the story. As the case comes together, we find Gurney’s marriage coming apart, and are not sure which we are more anxious to see happen—a resolution to the case or some self-reflection on the part of our alienated hero detective that will enable him to save his marriage. A well-done first-time thriller with enough puzzles and solutions to satisfy the most diehard mystery fan, but with sufficient character development and angst to satisfy the literary critic in all of us.