Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
Think of a Number: John Verdon, 12—29 September, 2011
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
Verdon’s Think of a Number is a murder mystery with layers of interesting concepts. The killer apparently knows which random number the victim will think of. He leaves footprints in the snow that just stop without a trace. A myriad of seemingly impossible things that baffle your average plod.
For me, when a writer sets up such intriguing mysteries, it’s crucial that they’re properly explained, and Verdon provides really clever, logical explanations for his puzzles, which in turn gives the killer real credibility.
The first third of book is a build up to the inevitable murder. Although it’s relatively fast paced with new developments every chapter, you do find yourself just waiting for Mellory, the victim, to hurry up and die. After he does pop his formerly alcoholic clogs, the ball starts not so much rolling as zipping about like the literary equivalent of a pinball machine.
Gurney is a likeable detective but his wife is perhaps the most annoying woman since records began. Never satisfied, almost whinging, long-suffering Gurney can’t do right for doing wrong. OK, it’s good that we’ve avoided the clichéd divorcee/widower set-up, but far too much time is spent at home enduring the most dysfunctional marriage since the Websters hit Corrie. The primary cause of the strain came as no great shock and was completely unresolved by the end of the book. Worse, his erstwhile son is brought up, referred to a couple of times, ignored and forgotten. A tangent we could have avoided. It also has to be said that a publishing house like Penguin should have better editors – Madeleine had to cancel her party’s. Her party’s what?
In his other life, down the station, retired Gurney is something of a celebrity and the fun Verdon has with the various characters is brilliant. Clichéd to the point of satire, the supporting cast of detectives make compelling reading and provide some (unintentional?) light relief. Everyone will recognise the one-upmanship and sycophancy so colourfully brought to life.
All in, it’s a very readable, fast-moving novel but the overemphasis on Gurney’s drab and dreary home life rips away the heart of urgency that is so crucial and makes what could have been a cutting thriller about as sharp as a butter knife. For a début novel, though, Verdon has put real effort in and it’s a pleasure to become engrossed in a book that is not only entertaining, but cleverly plotted that makes you work for your money. Remember, you’re not a spectator – you’re a reader!