Retirement isn’t working out quite like Dave Gurney anticipated. When he left the NYPD as the most decorated homicide detective in its history, Gurney thought he was leaving all the death, puzzles, and headaches behind. Yet he keeps finding himself mixed up in exactly the type of investigations he was trying to get away from, the most recent of which ended with him shot three times and in a coma. (Shut Your Eyes Tight)
He’s still trying to recuperate from his injuries, both physical and mental, when an old journalist acquaintance contacts him with a seemingly innocent request for a favor. Her college-age daughter, Kim, is putting together a reality show based on the infamous, unsolved Good Shepherd case. Gurney isn’t being asked to investigate the case, merely handhold Kim while she interviews family members of the victims for her documentary exploring the emotional toll murder – especially unsolved murder – takes on the survivors.
Of course, Gurney didn’t get to be the most decorated homicide detective in NYPD history without having an intensely curious mind, and he can’t help but start poking around in the case. A series of murders in which six individuals driving black Mercedes were shot while driving in remote areas, The Good Shepherd case has become literally a textbook case for law enforcement agencies to study as an example of a manifesto driven serial killer. The more he looks, however, the more convinced Gurney becomes that no one involved in the original case, from the locals to the feds to the forensic psychiatrist, correctly assembled the pieces of the puzzle and, in fact, they actually all came to the wrong conclusions about the killer’s motive.
And Gurney just can’t let that go.
Let the Devil Sleep is author John Verdon’s third entry in the very well-written Gurney series, following Think of a Number and Shut Your Eyes Tight. You don’t have to read the books in order, though doing so will give you an immense appreciation for Verdon’s exceptional skill at character development. Gurney is a wonderfully complicated lead, one Verdon has brought along with a slow, sure hand over the course of the series. Initially a man very much caught up living in his own head, forever seeking (criminal) puzzles to solve, Gurney has over the course of his semi-retirement come to open up more, first to his wife, Madeleine, and in Let the Devil Sleep to his somewhat estranged adult son, Kyle. It’s a genuine pleasure to see how Verdon uses Gurney’s interaction with the two of them to continually enrich and add colors to Gurney’s character palette.
And though I don’t know it for a fact, I suspect that Verdon, like his lead, must be a fan of puzzles himself, because the Gurney books continue to be masterpieces of plot construction. A more intricate, layered, but ultimately logical and satisfying, framework for a crime novel you won’t find. Using secondary characters as well developed and entertaining in their own right as many series leads out there, Verdon sends Gurney into a maze of clues and red herrings that ingeniously come together as Gurney teases information out of people, some reluctant to share it, others who aren’t even aware they have it. Step by step, piece by piece, the reader is treated to following along as Gurney assembles the puzzle…and dodges danger that presents itself in guises both foreign and familiar.
Reading a Dave Gurney novel is precisely what I imagine being on a runaway train would be like. The ride starts slow and steady, enjoyable. Then builds in speed and intensity, causing you to prick up your ears and pay much closer attention. Finally, it hurtles headlong toward a spectacular, stunning conclusion, with all you can do being hang on for dear life until it’s over. Anyone who’s a fan of clever characters, killer plots, and unceasingly smart writing should definitely be reading John Verdon’s work.
Let the Devil Sleep is available from Crown (ISBN: 978-0307717924).
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