Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review: Think of a Number

If you like a good, intelligent crime read, look no further than John Verdon’s excellent, fresh Think of A Number: A Novel.

Dave Gurney is a retired detective, famous for solving of a number of high profile serial killer cases. An acquaintance he hasn’t seen for many years contacts him requesting some assistance with an issue troubling him. He has received a letter from an anonymous person asking him to think of a number. When he opens the accompanying small envelope, it reveals the number he was thinking of. The writer of the letter, using verse, suggests that the writer knows the recipient intimately and hints at some nasty things to come! Of course, the letter’s recipient is terrified and calls on Gurney to help solve the mystery.

There’s a lot of crime fiction out there and a good deal of it revolves around serial killers – and they all start to look a bit the same after a while. But Vernon has given us a very fresh story that is intellectually intriguing and challenging. The story is well-paced, characters are rich and nuanced, and the resolution of the mystery is clever and believable. Bad language is minimal but some of the violence is a bit gruesome.

As I was reading this, I was reminded of the classic Sherlock Holmes plots that were not just a straightforward story but also presented insights into problem solving and thinking. Vernon does this and writes in a straightforward narrative style that is engaging and sustains momentum.

Some of the issues explored are also significant – grief, marriage, friendship, retirement, meaning of work, and many others. There is food for thought here as well as high entertainment value.

If you are trying to think of a good crime read, then Think of a Number.

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