Former detective Dave Gurney is a man trying desperately to be in harmony with himself. Recently retired from the NYPD as their top man in homicide, he and his wife, Madeleine, have retired to an idyllic little town in upstate New York.
Try as he might, however, he just can’t completely detach himself from his deep-seated desire to solve puzzles and figure out what makes killers tick. And so it is a double-edged sword that lands in his lap when an old classmate, Mark Mellery, seeks him out for help with some mysterious, threatening letters he’s been receiving.
The letters are all in the form of poems that set forth a puzzle, the first of which also included a “game” – think of any number between 1 and 1000 and then open the small envelope included. Mellery was understandably freaked out when after picking 658, he thought at random, he opened the envelope to find written on the paper inside it… 658.
As the letters are thinly veiled threats against Mellery’s life, Gurney tries to convince him to take them to the police. Mellery refuses and makes Gurney promise that he will not either. When Mellery is brutally murdered in his home a few days later, however, Gurney has no choice but to take all the information he has to local law enforcement. When more people are killed, including a police officer, Gurney is reluctantly invited to join the investigation as a consultant.
While Think of a Number certainly has a compelling serial killer plot, it is at heart a character driven story. Gurney is a rigid, overly-logical man who, despite being aware of his shortcomings, is compelled to go again down the same path that has already once brought his marriage to the verge of breaking. Proud of his ability to find answers where others can’t, Gurney sees the killer as being “as logical as he is pathological” and he simply cannot resist trying to best the killer by solving his puzzles… no matter the potential personal cost.
With his somewhat sterile approach to virtually everything Gurney is a character it can take a little to warm up to. Much of the story involves his inner reflections on the motivation for his seemingly self-destructive behavior, and as such the storyline may move a bit slow in places for some. However, the puzzles author John Verdon has created for the killer, the ability to pull off some of which seems to border on the supernatural, are tremendously fun to try and figure out along with Gurney.
So, if you’re up for a book that will not only entertain you but will also make you dust off your “little grey cells” and actually think, Think of a Number is definitely a book you should pick up.