Peter Pan Must Die
John Verdon makes demands of his readers. You should not approach one of his Dave Gurney thrillers with the expectation of finishing it within a couple of hours. These books, of which PETER PAN MUST DIE is the latest, require attention on several levels. Verdon is not afraid to let Gurney wax wisdom, using his wife Madeleine, his ad hoc detective partner Jack Hardwick, or anyone within hailing distance as a sounding board as he gets from Point A to Point B during the course of approaching a tantalizing mystery that always seems to be unsolvable. Verdon demands much but gives back more. You walk away from the completion of one of his novels with more knowledge than you had when you first cracked the binding. Guaranteed.
PETER PAN MUST DIE is no exception. Gurney is a retired NYPD detective whose life with Madeleine in rural upstate New York is strangely (well, maybe not so strangely) unsatisfying. Once the department’s top homicide investigator, Gurney continues to be drawn back into the hunt, exposing himself to danger along the way in spite of himself. Or maybe it’s because of himself. That is one of the central issues that confronts Gurney in this book. The issue is indirectly raised when he receives a visit from Hardwick, who wants him to use his skills and talents as a murder conviction is unofficially reopened.
"One does not walk away from a Verdon novel without observations, and there is a significant one in PETER PAN MUST DIE. It is worth reading the book just for that, and has to do with seeing and thinking."
Kay Spalter has been convicted of murdering her husband, Carl, a charismatic politician who was killed by a sniper’s bullet moments before he was supposed to give the eulogy at his mother’s funeral. Katherine’s attorney has hired Hardwick as a private investigator, and Hardwick wants to utilize Gurney’s keen insight and analytical talents to take a fresh look at the evidence. Gurney is reluctant to get involved, but ultimately acquiesces, given that Hardwick’s assistance to him in a previous case resulted in the abrupt end of Hardwick’s career with the State Highway Patrol.
Gurney learns all too quickly that Kay is anything but a sympathetic client, yet it also becomes obvious that the police investigation was shoddy at best and corrupt at worst. His immediate conclusion? The evidence demonstrates that for Carl to have been murdered in the manner described by the police would have been impossible. When Gurney also discovers that the detective in charge of the investigation deliberately withheld evidence at trial that might have cleared Kay, a dismissal of the charges is all but assured.
Gurney does his job, but it’s not enough for him. Having all but determined that Kay did not kill Carl, he needs to find out who actually did and why. The answers to those questions will put Gurney on the trail of a mysterious, almost legendary, hitman who is feared by law enforcement officers and crime lords alike, and whose origin is shrouded in mystery. He may be the most dangerous prey Gurney has ever hunted...and he is hunting Gurney as well. Tenacious as always, Gurney must confront his own motives as he pursues and is pursued by an all-but-invisible killer while he is once again drawn back into a situation from which he may not emerge intact.
One does not walk away from a Verdon novel without observations, and there is a significant one in PETER PAN MUST DIE. It is worth reading the book just for that, and has to do with seeing and thinking. Watch for it, as this wonderfully told story unfolds before you, layer by layer, within one of the truly great puzzle mysteries of the year.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 18, 2014