If wars were fought with books instead of armies and munitions, John Verdon would be the American weaponry lobbed against the amassed might of the invading Nordic noir. Seriously. SHUT YOUR EYES TIGHT, his sophomore offering, heralds the return of Dave Gurney in a book so good that, once you start it, you will hope it never ends.
"...one of those rare novels that will make you smarter but give you nightmares."
For those of you who have yet to read Verdon's debut novel, THINK OF A NUMBER, Gurney is considered to be a super-detective, a former NYPD homicide investigator who received numerous accolades and who is supposedly retired. He currently lives with his wife Madeleine in rural upstate New York in what one might describe as a very dark mirror image of "Green Acres" --- she loves the country and nature, while he doesn't entirely get it --- with the result being that he keeps getting tugged back into the sordid world of criminal investigation. The tugger, if you will, is once again Jack Hardwick, Gurney's former law enforcement colleague.
Hardwick, as described in the narrative, is "…a nasty, abrasive, watery-eyed cynic…" who, for reasons of his own, hooks Gurney up professionally with Val Perry, an extremely difficult, complicated and wealthy woman whose daughter, Jillian, was murdered some months prior under extremely unusual circumstances. In fact, Jillian had been married for all of 10 minutes to a well-known psychiatrist when she was found decapitated in the cottage of a groundskeeper who himself vanished immediately afterward. The police have gotten nowhere in their investigation, and Val wants the murderer brought to justice.
Gurney senses almost immediately that something is not right, and in spite of himself is intrigued with the mystery, even as Madeleine passively resists his involvement in another investigation. As a compromise, Gurney promises to limit his investigation into the matter to two weeks. Then the intrigue begins. Does it ever!
Madeleine, in spite of herself, directly and indirectly contributes to the process, bringing up points that Gurney may have overlooked or missed. Gurney occasionally ignores (at least at first) his own best advice, set forth during the police academy course that he teaches on a part-time basis, or learned from something as simple as observing a coyote traversing his bucolic estate (though not immediately applied). Such is his method, though, that he soon finds himself confronted with a glaring, uncomfortable truth: nothing adds up. Everything the police and Gurney know is wrong. And the more Gurney learns, the more confused things become.
All of this brings up the primary element that makes SHUT YOUR EYES TIGHT such a focused, addictive read: Verdon gives the reader clues. I had the "who" in the "whodunit" equation figured out in the book's first quarter or so; the "whydunit" and the "howdunit," however, took a bit longer --- to the closing chapters, actually. And in between? A violent, intelligent, depraved, smart and galloping ride on a wild but controlled horse of a book with a host of unforgettable secondary characters, one of whom --- a West Palm Beach police detective --- we never really get to meet. By the time I reached story's end, I wanted to do it all over again.
SHUT YOUR EYES TIGHT fulfills and exceeds every promise Verdon made with last year's THINK OF A NUMBER. It's one of those rare novels that will make you smarter but give you nightmares. And you'll love it, for both reasons.