Think Of A Number (dave Gurney, No.1): A Novel

Hardcover | June 6, 2013

byJohn Verdon

not yet rated|write a review
An extraordinary fiction debut, Think of a Number is an exquisitely plotted novel of suspense that grows relentlessly darker and more frightening as its pace accelerates, forcing its deeply troubled characters to moments of startling self-revelation.
 
Arriving in the mail over a period of weeks are taunting letters that end with a simple declaration, “Think of any number…picture it…now see how well I know your secrets.”  Amazingly, those who comply find that the letter writer has predicted their random choice exactly.  For Dave Gurney, just retired as the NYPD’s top homicide investigator and forging a new life with his wife, Madeleine, in upstate New York, the letters are oddities that begin as a diverting puzzle but quickly ignite a massive serial murder investigation.
 
What police are confronted with is a completely baffling killer, one who is fond of rhymes filled with threats and warnings, whose attention to detail is unprecedented, and who has an uncanny knack for disappearing into thin air.  Even more disturbing, the scale of his ambition seems to widen as events unfold.
 
Brought in as an investigative consultant, Dave Gurney soon accomplishes deductive breakthroughs that leave local police in awe.  Yet, even as he matches wits with his seemingly clairvoyant opponent, Gurney’s tragedy-marred past rises up to haunt him, his marriage approaches a dangerous precipice, and finally, a dark, cold fear builds that he’s met an adversary who can’t be stopped.
 
In the end, fighting to keep his bearings amid a whirlwind of menace and destruction, Gurney sees the truth of what he’s become – what we all become when guilty memories fester – and how his wife Madeleine’s clear-eyed advice may be the only answer that makes sense.
 
A work that defies easy labels -- at once a propulsive masterpiece of suspense and an absorbing immersion in the lives of characters so real we seem to hear their heartbeats – Think of a Number is a novel you’ll not soon forget.

Pricing and Purchase Info

$3.00 online
$25.00 list price
Out of stock online

From the Publisher

An extraordinary fiction debut, Think of a Number is an exquisitely plotted novel of suspense that grows relentlessly darker and more frightening as its pace accelerates, forcing its deeply troubled characters to moments of startling self-revelation. Arriving in the mail over a period of weeks are taunting letters that end with a simpl...

JOHN VERDON has held several executive positions with Manhattan advertising firms, but like his protagonist, he recently relocated with his wife to rural upstate New York.  Think of a Number is his first novel.

other books by John Verdon

Wolf Lake: A Novel
Wolf Lake: A Novel

Hardcover|Jul 22 2016

$30.98 online$36.95list price(save 16%)
Peter Pan Must Die (dave Gurney, No. 4): A Novel
Peter Pan Must Die (dave Gurney, No. 4): A Novel

Hardcover|Jul 1 2014

$22.65 online$29.95list price(save 24%)
Let The Devil Sleep (dave Gurney, No. 3): A Novel
Let The Devil Sleep (dave Gurney, No. 3): A Novel

Paperback|Apr 9 2013

$12.74 online$17.00list price(save 25%)
see all books by John Verdon
Format:HardcoverDimensions:432 pages, 9.36 × 6.45 × 1.35 inPublished:June 6, 2013Publisher:Crown Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307588920

ISBN - 13:9780307588920

Look for similar items by category:

Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from No need to hold your breath Think of a Number is the first (but not the last) Dave Gurney novel by Verdon. I grabbed it off the bargain table because the premise, a serial killer that seems to be able to read minds or at least knows his victims so well he can predict what they will think, sounded like a good, suspenseful read. In some ways I was wrong, but I didn't really mind. Dave Gurney was the NYPD’s top homicide investigator, at least until he retired. What we quickly learn is that Gurney is a cop, always will be. Retirement certainly won't change that fact. How could it when even bird-watching becomes an exercise in detecting? Gurney struggles to adapt to the calm, comfortable life his wife desires, living out in the country. He's trying, but his mind still yearns for another puzzle to solve, and when an old classmate contacts him about a troubling letter that arrived in his mailbox, Gurney is intrigued. He accepts the challenge, but is still convinced it’s either a prank, or that the number on the envelope holds special meaning to his friend. When his friend is found murdered, the mystery takes on a whole new level and Gurney finds himself brought on as a special consultant to the case. I never found this book particularly suspenseful and I wouldn't call it a 'thriller'. It didn't have the ususal fast pace drive to catch the killer as bodies begin to pile up that I associate with this genre. In fact, the first murder (that we know about) doesn't occur until about a third of the way into the book. Until that point, the book seems more like a character piece as we see Gurney trying to cope with retirement (and pretty much failing) and the effects it is having on his marriage. This isn't a single minded police procedural, in fact the actual police work is rather boring and is mostly a bunch of cops sitting around hashing things out while stepping on each other's ego. I never really felt we get to see why Gurney is supposedly such a great detective (I figured out the killer before he did). What the book offers instead is a very well crafted character examination.
Date published: 2014-05-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Expected More Dave Gurney is a retired cop, famous for solving a few serial murder cases. After moving out of the city with his second wife, he expects to have left that life behind when he receives an email from an old college buddy Mark Mellery asking to meet. Gurney agrees to meet with him and is shown a series of letters, one where the person that writes the letter tells Mellery to guess a number between one and one thousand. Mellery guesses 658, which matches the number guessed by the letter writer and sets Mellery in to a panic. What follows is a threatening letter about non-specific items that Mellery has done in his past. Mellery wants to know who could know him so well that he could guess what number he was thinking and wants to know what this person is going to do to him. Gurney sets to find out. Gurney looking in to this matter upsets his wife, who wants him to leave his old life behind. Gurney doesn't find out much until the investigation takes a sharp turn and suddenly the police are involved. This is a debut novel for Verdon and while there are sections that were great, the story overall felt a bit muted. I think the main problem with this story is that it started in the wrong area. Gurney's investigation of the letters himself felt very slow and like he wasn't getting anywhere. The book didn't start moving until the police got involved, which is when things got interesting. Unfortunately for the book, that was about a third the way through the book and it was too late to save the entire story. In terms of characters, I liked Gurney, though I think he would have been better written as a current detective rather than a retired one. What annoyed me was his wife's reaction to everything he did, which to me felt like it was always met with hostility, annoyance, and anger. I can understand that she was upset about him getting back to his old life, but it felt like she never let that go the entire book. Overall not a bad debut novel, but I don't think I'd seek out another of Verdon's novels voluntarily.
Date published: 2012-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great first novel Can't agree more with Reginald Hill, who wrote: “Just when you think the serial killer thriller has been done to death, someone comes along and revives it! THINK OF A NUMBER is written with pace, style and intelligence. It has rounded characters, teasing puzzles, and lots of tension. The number I'm thinking of is 1!” John Verdon's debut novel had my number one too, that's for sure. The book doesn't just bring us your typical serial killer, though, it's got a special, intelligent one, who sets up elaborate crime scenes, leaves messages taunting the police and before killing his victims he scares them to death with a series of threatening poems. This is one guy who thinks he's too smart to be caught, and he almost is.
Date published: 2012-02-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not Bad... I think my problem was reading all the reviews before reading the book. I thought it would be the book to end all books but it did not live up to the hype. I did adore the main character and felt for him and with him. His wife was annoying and served no purpose for me. Why marry a cop to only complain about their job and seem so unloving and caring and quite passive aggressive. I found the book to be more of a behind the scenes look at the thought process of detectives than a serial killer on the loose and the terror involved with that. I would recommend it but its not the greatest book I've ever read but far from the worst.
Date published: 2011-07-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great debut Mystery This is a very good debut novel. There were times I simply could not put this book down, as I wanted to figure out (along with the protagonist, super detective Dave Gurney)how the serial killer was able to do the amazing and disturbing things that he did. Even the slower scenes involving police debriefings were interesting as the gathered police officials suggested possible explanations to the almost unsolvable murders. My biggest problem with this book was that I quickly figured out who the murderer was despite not knowing how he did it. It also had a slightly drawn out ending where the killer reveals himself, explains most of his plan, and is thwarted by the quick thinking Gurney. Good first effort though and I expect Verdon will only get better.
Date published: 2011-06-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A twisty "whodunit" I wouldn't say that crime/mystery are my favourite genre - but compelled by my bookclub's selection to read this one, I gave it a whirl. I enjoyed it and can definitely recommend this pick. Detective Gurney is a wonderful character with brilliant deductive skills. I feel like the author didn't fill too many details in about this Detective's history, leaving himself open for a sequel or ten. At times I felt like there were too many unnecessary characters, and the Detective's relationship with his wife was distant and uncomfortable. However, I enjoyed this quick read, its twisty plot, and really didn't figure out "whodunit" until the author was just about ready to reveal it himself. Kudos!
Date published: 2011-03-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Good Count Very good first novel by Mr. Verdon. Not perfect, but it is tricky enough has a solid enough lead character to overcome any flaws. Mr. Patterson's co-authors in much of his recent dreck could learn a thing or two from the pacing and style of Mr. Verdon. Definitely will give his next book a try.
Date published: 2010-11-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great Light Read, but No Masterpiece Think of a Number is an entertaining book. Its well written, with some great twists and fleshy characters. If youre looking for a simple escapist book to whisk you away for a few hours this is a great choice. Theres no nonsense magic or unbelievable aliens-did-it type twists here. Just simple, smart writing. But while it is a good book, it does have flaws, it is a little long, and the ending a little too perfect. If youre looking for an intelectual masterpiece, this is not for you. But if you want a fun, easy book, pick this one up. (Also, I apologize for the lack of apostrophies. My keyboard is broken.)
Date published: 2010-09-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from S'ok This book didn't really resonate with me. Its kind of a detective/thriller fiction, and while I love thriller/horror books, I'm not much into the whole detective/murder mystery thing. So while I can see the potential for this book being fantastic, it didn't really flat my boat. Its the story of a retired police detective trying to solve a "locked room" scenario mystery that just so happens to involve an associate he knew from college. Its an interesting concept of a serial killer choosing victims through a mail order scam. I liked the ending the best, mostly because I was curious as to how the author was going to tie everything together. Which he does very well by the way, and while this book will never make one of my top 10 lists, it is still a well written book with a fascinating story concept. I just wish I was into detective fiction more.
Date published: 2010-09-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Fun The only reason I read mysteries or thrillers is to have the fun of guessing what's going to happen. It gives clues, and you think of a couple possibilities. Good mysteries give pieces away at a time, and that's exactly what Think of a Number did. Sure, I was able to figure everything out before the detective, but at the same time, that's the FUN of it. I personally HATE when it ends up being something ridiculous that was unpredictable. That had no clues, no bearing. There were parts you really had to think about. The characters were very real and easy to read about. There's nothing worse than hating a character.It wasn't the BEST mystery I've ever read, but it was good enough to make me plough through it in one go.
Date published: 2010-08-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A SIMPLE GAME WE ALL PLAY The title brings to mind a game everyone has played in one form or another … think of a number between 1 and 10. However, in this case the game becomes serious. If you decide to play along and if the number you think of is correct you could very well end up dead. Dave Gurney is a recently retired NYPD homicide detective who receives a telephone call from an old college acquaintance asking for help in dealing with a strange series of letters and phone calls. When his friend dies a bizarre death Gurney is drawn into the hunt for what turns out to be a very creative serial killer. This serial killer is one of the most inventive I have come across in recent “crime thrillers”. The combination of the author’s creativity and his ability to make Gurney a very human character made for a book that is very easy to get caught up in. I always say I do not have time for another “series” but I do hope there is at least one more Dave Gurney book in the offing.
Date published: 2010-08-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Don't know what all the hype is about. The story started out well enough but it quickly became very predictable. It was easy to guess who the killer was and I kept waiting for some big twist to throw me off the obvious suspect but none came. It was disappointing waiting for the characters to figure out what I already knew.
Date published: 2010-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best books I have ever read John Verdon is an absolute genius. I cannot believe that this is first book, it was so well-written, interesting, suspenseful, creative, and imaginative. It deserves every good review that it has been given. It kept me guessing the entire time, until the very end when the killer was revealed. The notes that the killer wrote were utterly terrifying, a kind of creepy that grows on you slowly. I love thrillers and mystery novels, and this is one of the best that I have ever read. I would definitely add it to my top 5 books. I read the entire book as quickly as I could, and I rarely even let it out of my sight ! The book was very well written because not only does it teach you a lot about the police force and crime, it also gives you a glimpse at Dave Gurney's life and what kind of person he is, and it's also suspenseful as it takes you through various crime scenes. This book is definitely worth it to buy, and you'll want to save it and reread it. Congrats to John Verdon on his amazing and well-deserved debut. My only complaint is that I wish there was a second novel !
Date published: 2010-08-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Did NOT live up to the hype... This was formulaic and every twist was easy to see coming... I guessed the killer, the reasons, everything... I do not know why it is getting good reviews... don't waste your time!
Date published: 2010-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good reading Excellent book. Please read this in the spirit in which it was written: "I went to bed with this book and am afraid I spent the whole night with Mr. Verdon." Look forward to reading new stories by this new author..
Date published: 2010-08-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not as Good as Expected While I enjoyed this thriller/ mystery, and it kept me guessing until the end, I was diappointed in the lack of character development. Dave Guerney - the main character - has a wife who seems only to serve as someone he can talk to rather than think to himself. Madeline, his wife - seems to be a vehicle in the novel who exists so that he can ponder over his thoughts with her, so that we the reader can understand what is going on in Dave Guerney's head. I was a bit disappointed.
Date published: 2010-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great book I' ve bought this book after i've read some reviews and it was great.
Date published: 2010-08-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I must be missing something There was a time when first time authors were only published in paperback and they earned the right to have a release in hardcover AFTER being on the best seller list a number of times - this seems to have changed and not for the better - Hardcovers are expensive notwithstanding discounts that are available - this should not have been published as a hardcover. I am puzzled by the reviews and the ratings of this book - The prologue just grabbed me, and I thought Oh Boy! I’m going to have a late night …I was wrong. In my opinion the book was written from a murder/mystery/thriller check list - retired cop (who may have only retired because his second wife wanted him to); unresolved issues with his second wife; unresolved issues with his oldest son, unresolved issues regarding the death of his second son; a potential “other women”; a mystery; gruesome murders; a stereo-typical small town police department with a number of small minded cops; and political figures trying to one up every one to get ahead; un-related reference to Macbeth; statements with no supporting details......I could go on. If you truly want to read this - get a copy from the library - I doubt there will be a very long wait, even if they only have one copy circulating.
Date published: 2010-07-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Kept me guessing 'til the end! Well, John Verdon's debut novel had my number, that's for sure. I'm a big fan of suspense and thrillers and Think of a Numb3r had me right from the start... Dave Gurney is a retired NYPD Homicide Investigator. He's moved to the country with his wife Madeleine to enjoy the quiet life. (Mind you, his new hobby is exhibiting serial killer photographs...) Mark Mellery, an acquaintance from college sends Gurney a somewhat desperate note asking for his 'professional' help. Mark has received a series of cryptic notes - the first asking him to pick a number between 1 and 1000. When he mentally does, he then opens a second envelope to find that exact number. How could anyone know what number he would have picked? The notes have escalated in tone and Mellery is now quite frightened. Who wouldn't be.... "What you took you will give when you get what you gave. I know what you think, when you blink, where you've been, where you'll be. You and I have a date, Mr. 658." Against his better judgement (and that of Madeleine) he is drawn into the investigation. What an utterly imaginative and creepy crime Verdon has come up with! It begins with the notes, but the crime scenes themselves are out of the ordinary as well. I love not being able to figure out the whodunit and the howdunit. Verdon kept me enthralled from start to finish. Very, very clever! The relationship between Dave and Madeleine is also a big part of the book. Gurney is good at the detective stuff, but is having trouble with his own relationships. I'm still making up my mind about Gurney. I think he's a work in progress. I found the enigmatic Madeleine to be fascinating and I think there are depths to plumb there.I definitely hope that this becomes a regular series as I think there is much left to explore, know and develop with Dave Gurney. Some of the supporting characters, notably the police captain and the district attorney, were a bit over the top, but provided a good foil for Gurney. A wonderfully creepy read that will have you guessing to the end!
Date published: 2010-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A fantastic Thriller. A page turner. What a great summer for thrillers! Readers will find John Verdon’s Think of a Number impossible to put down. Retirement is a difficult adjustment for NYPD detective Dave Gurney. Even after moving to upstate New York with his wife Madeleine, he can’t stop thinking about his past successful cases, but one day a former acquaintance asks for help on a personal matter and Gurney is lead into a hunt for a very smart serial killer who seems to be able to read the minds of his victims and know their darkest secrets. The intricate page turning plot doesn’t let up until the very last page, and Gurney is one of the best characters to come along in a while. His obsession with his cases, his relationships with his wife, son and friends all ring true. This is a fabulous summer read from a new author who has a great future.
Date published: 2010-06-30

Extra Content

Read from the Book

Chapter 1Cop artJason Strunk was by all accounts an inconsequential fellow, a bland thirty-something, nearly invisible to his neighbors--and apparently inaudible as well, since none could recall a single specific thing he'd ever said. They couldn't even be certain that he'd ever spoken. Perhaps he'd nodded, perhaps said hello, perhaps muttered a word or two. It was hard to say.All expressed a conventional initial amazement, even a temporary disbelief, at the revelation of Mr. Strunk's obsessive devotion to killing middle-aged men with mustaches and his uniquely disturbing way of disposing of the bodies: cutting them into manageable segments, wrapping them colorfully, and mailing them to local police officers as Christmas presents.Dave Gurney gazed intently at the colorless, placid face of Jason Strunk--actually, the original Central Booking mug shot of Jason Strunk--that stared back at him from his computer screen. The mug shot had been enlarged to make the face life-size, and it was surrounded at the borders of the screen by the tool icons of a creative photo-retouching program that Gurney was just starting to get the hang of.He moved one of the brightness-control tools on the screen to the iris of Strunk's right eye, clicked his mouse, and then examined the small highlight he'd created.Better, but still not right.The eyes were always the hardest--the eyes and the mouth--but they were the key. Sometimes he had to experiment with the position and intensity of one tiny highlight for hours, and even then he'd end up with something not quite what it should be, not good enough to show to Sonya, and definitely not Madeleine.The thing about the eyes was that they, more than anything else, captured the tension, the contradiction--the uncommunicative blandness spiked with a hint of cruelty that Gurney had often discerned in the faces of murderers with whom he'd had the opportunity to spend quality time.He'd gotten the look right with his patient manipulation of the mug shot of Jorge Kunzman (the Walmart stock clerk who always kept the head of his last date in his refrigerator until he could replace it with one more recent). He'd been pleased with the result, which conveyed with disturbing immediacy the deep black emptiness lurking in Mr. Kunzman's bored expression, and Sonya's excited reaction, her gush of praise, had solidified his opinion. It was that reception, plus the unexpected sale of the piece to one of Sonya's collector friends, that motivated him to produce the series of creatively doctored photographs now being featured in a show headlined Portraits of Murderers by the Man Who Caught Them, in Sonya's small but pricey gallery in Ithaca.How a recently retired NYPD homicide detective with a yawning uninterest in art in general and trendy art in particular, and a deep distaste for personal notoriety, could have ended up as the focus of a chic university-town art show described by local critics as "a cutting-edge blend of brutally raw photographs, unflinching psychological insights, and masterful graphic manipulations" was a question with two very different answers: his own and his wife's.As far as he was concerned, it all began with Madeleine's cajoling him into taking an art-appreciation course with her at the museum in Cooperstown. She was forever trying to get him out--out of his den, out of the house, out of himself, just out. He'd learned that the best way to stay in control of his own time was through the strategy of periodic capitulations. The art-appreciation course was one of these strategic moves, and although he dreaded the prospect of sitting through it, he expected it to immunize him against further pressures for at least a month or two. It wasn't that he was a couch potato--far from it. At the age of forty-seven, he could still do fifty push-ups, fifty chin-ups, and fifty sit-ups. He just wasn't very fond of going places.The course, however, turned out to be a surprise--in fact, three surprises. First, despite his pre-course assumption that his greatest challenge would be staying awake, he found the instructor, Sonya Reynolds, a gallery owner and artist of regional renown, riveting. She was not conventionally beautiful, not in the archetypal Northern European Catherine Deneuve mode. Her mouth was too pouty, her cheekbones overly prominent, her nose too strong. But somehow the imperfect parts were unified into a uniquely striking whole by large eyes of a deep smoky green and by a manner that was completely relaxed and naturally sensual. There were not many men in the class, just six of the twenty-six attendees, but she had the absolute attention of all six.The second surprise was his positive reaction to the subject matter. Because it was a special interest of hers, Sonya devoted considerable time to art derived from photography--photography that had been manipulated to create images that were more powerful or communicative than the originals.The third surprise came three weeks into the twelve-week course, on the night that she was commenting enthusiastically on a contemporary artist's silk-screen prints derived from solarized photographic portraits. As Gurney gazed at the prints, the idea came to him that he could take advantage of an unusual resource to which he had special access and to which he could bring a special perspective. The notion was strangely exciting. The last thing he'd expected from an art-appreciation course was excitement.Once this occurred to him--the concept of enhancing, clarifying, intensifying criminal mug shots, particularly the mug shots of murderers, in ways that would capture and convey the nature of the beast he had spent his career studying, pursuing, and outwitting--it took hold, and he thought about it more often than he would have been comfortable admitting. He was, after all, a cautious man who could see both sides of every question, the flaw in every conviction, the naivete in every enthusiasm.As Gurney worked at the desk in his den that bright October morning on the mug shot of Jason Strunk, the pleasant challenge of the process was interrupted by the sound of something being dropped on the floor behind him."I'm leaving these here," said Madeleine Gurney in a voice that to anyone else might have sounded casual but to her husband was fraught.He looked over his shoulder, his eyes narrowing at the sight of the small burlap sack leaning against the door. "Leaving what?" he asked, knowing the answer."Tulips," said Madeleine in the same even tone."You mean bulbs?"It was a silly correction, and they both knew it. It was just a way of expressing his irritation at Madeleine's wanting him to do something he didn't feel like doing."What do you want me to do with them in here?""Bring them out to the garden. Help me plant them."He considered pointing out the illogic of her bringing into the den something for him to bring back out to the garden but thought better of it."As soon as I finish with this," he said a little resentfully. He realized that planting tulip bulbs on a glorious Indian-summer day in a hilltop garden overlooking a rolling panorama of crimson autumn woods and emerald pastures under a cobalt sky was not a particularly onerous assignment. He just hated being interrupted. And this reaction to interruption, he told himself, was a by-product of his greatest strength: the linear, logical mind that had made him such a successful detective--the mind that was jarred by the slightest discontinuity in a suspect's story, that could sense a fissure too tiny for most eyes to see.Madeleine peered over his shoulder at the computer screen. "How can you work on something so ugly on a day like this?" she asked.Chapter 2A perfect victimDavid and Madeleine Gurney lived in a sturdy nineteenth-century farmhouse, nestled in the corner of a secluded pasture at the end of a dead-end road in the Delaware County hills five miles outside the village of Walnut Crossing. The ten-acre pasture was surrounded by woods of cherry, maple, and oak.The house retained its original architectural simplicity. During the year they'd owned it, the Gurneys had restored to a more appropriate appearance the previous owner's unfortunate updates--replacing, for example, bleak aluminum windows with wood-framed versions that possessed the divided-light style of an earlier century. They did it not out of a mania for historical authenticity but in recognition that the original aesthetics had somehow been right. This matter of how one's home should look and feel was one of the subjects on which Madeleine and David were in complete harmony--a list that, it seemed to him, had lately been shrinking.This thought had been eating like acid at his mood most of the day, activated by his wife's comment about the ugliness of the portrait he was working on. It was still at the edge of his consciousness that afternoon when, dozing in his favorite Adirondack chair after the tulip-planting activity, he became aware of Madeleine's footsteps brushing toward him through the ankle-high grass. When the footsteps stopped in front of his chair, he opened one eye."Do you think," she said in her calm, light way, "it's too late to take the canoe out?" Her voice positioned the words deftly between a question and a challenge.Madeleine was a slim, athletic forty-five-year-old who could easily be mistaken for thirty-five. Her eyes were frank, steady, appraising. Her long brown hair, with the exception of a few errant strands, was pulled up under her broad-brimmed straw gardening hat.He responded with a question from his own train of thought. "Do you really think it's ugly?""Of course it's ugly," she said without hesitation. "Isn't it supposed to be?"He frowned as he considered her comment. "You mean the subject matter?" he asked."What else would I mean?""I don't know." He shrugged. "You sounded a bit contemptuous of the whole thing--the execution as well as the subject matter.""Sorry."She didn't seem sorry. As he teetered on the edge of saying so, she changed the subject."Are you looking forward to seeing your old classmate?""Not exactly," he said, adjusting the reclining back of his chair a notch lower. "I'm not big on recollections of times past.""Maybe he's got a murder for you to solve."Gurney looked at his wife, studied the ambiguity of her expression. "You think that's what he wants?" he asked blandly."Isn't that what you're famous for?" Anger was beginning to stiffen her voice.It was something he'd witnessed in her often enough in recent months that he thought he understood what it was about. They had different notions of what his retirement from the job was supposed to mean, what kind of changes it was supposed to make in their lives, and, more specifically, how it was supposed to change him. Recently, too, ill feeling had been growing around his new avocation--the portraits-of-murderers project that was absorbing his time. He suspected that Madeleine's negativity in this area might be partly related to Sonya's enthusiasm."Did you know he's famous, too?" she asked."Who?""Your classmate.""Not really. He said something on the phone about writing a book, and I checked on it briefly. I wouldn't have thought he was well known.""Two books," said Madeleine. "He's the director of some sort of institute in Peony, and he did a series of lectures that ran on PBS. I printed out copies of the book jackets from the Internet. You might want to take a look at them.""I assume he'll tell me all there is to know about himself and his books. He doesn't sound shy.""Have it your way. I left the copies on your desk, if you change your mind. By the way, Kyle phoned earlier."He stared at her silently."I said you'd get back to him.""Why didn't you call me?" he asked, more testily than he intended. His son didn't call often."I asked him if I should get you. He said he didn't want to disturb you, it wasn't really urgent.""Did he say anything else?""No."She turned and walked across the thick, moist grass toward the house. When she reached the side door and put her hand on the knob, she seemed to remember something else, looked back at him, and spoke with exaggerated bafflement. "According to the book jacket, your old classmate seems to be a saint, perfect in every way. A guru of good behavior. It's hard to imagine why he'd need to consult a homicide detective.""A retired homicide detective," corrected Gurney.But she'd already gone in and neglected to cushion the slam of the door.Chapter 3Trouble in paradiseThe following day was more exquisite than the day before. It was the picture of October in a New England calendar. Gurney rose at 7:00 a.m., showered and shaved, put on jeans and a light cotton sweater, and was having his coffee in a canvas chair on the bluestone patio outside their downstairs bedroom. The patio and the French doors leading to it were additions he'd made to the house at Madeleine's urging.She was good at that sort of thing, had a sensitive eye for what was possible, what was appropriate. It revealed a lot about her--her positive instincts, her practical imagination, her unfailing taste. But when he got tangled in their areas of contention--the mires and brambles of the expectations each privately cultivated--he found it difficult to focus on her remarkable strengths.He must remember to return Kyle's call. He would have to wait three hours because of the time difference between Walnut Crossing and Seattle. He settled deeper into his chair, cradling his warm coffee mug in both hands.He glanced at the slim folder he'd brought out with his coffee and tried to imagine the appearance of the college classmate he hadn't seen for twenty-five years. The photo that appeared on the book jackets that Madeleine printed out from a bookstore website refreshed his recollection not only of the face but of the personality--complete with the vocal timbre of an Irish tenor and a smile that was improbably charming.When they were undergraduates at Fordham's Rose Hill campus in the Bronx, Mark Mellery was a wild character whose spurts of humor and truth, energy and ambition were colored by something darker. He had a tendency to walk close to the edge--a sort of careening genius, simultaneously reckless and calculating, always on the brink of a downward spiral.According to his website bio, the direction of the spiral, which had taken him down rapidly in his twenties, had been reversed in his thirties by some sort of dramatic spiritual transformation.Balancing his coffee mug on the narrow wooden arm of the chair, Gurney opened the folder on his lap, extracted the e-mail he'd received from Mellery a week earlier, and went over it again, line by line.Hello, Dave:I hope you don't find it inappropriate to be contacted by an old classmate after so much time has elapsed.

Editorial Reviews

"[An] inventive and entertaining first thriller. The hard-edged characters and gritty plot recall Chandler's "mean streets," but the ornate puzzles laid before Verdon's detective might have challenged the "little grey cells" of Hercule Poirot."--Washington Post"Mr. Verdon was an advertising executive who retired to upstate New York before deciding on a more artistic pursuit. And if THINK OF A NUMBER is any indication, he'll have no trouble forgetting about that day job. The transition couldn't be much smoother...Verdon is masterly at keeping Gurney [his protagonist] a step ahead of the reader [and] the murder itself is a pretty crafty piece of legerdemain....[The novel features] the kind of head-scratching setup that would get Sherlock Holmes off his cocaine [and] Gurney has the same precision, logic and thirst for clarity."--New York Times"Verdon’s deftly written, erudite debut is an exquisitely plotted novel of suspense."--Portland Oregonian"Mostly what makes this work is the intricate fabric that debut novelist Verdon weaves, as complications twist into what seems to be an impossible knot."--Chicago Sun-Times"Good writing and good storytelling often aren’t the same thing. Verdon combines them masterfully...Here’s hoping Verdon has what it takes to churn out more books like this."--Newark Star Ledger“Verdon’s brought back crimes of impossibility, starting with the titular parlor game trifle and escalating until we're deep into serial murder territory. Verdon is a master at controlling pace, illustrating the story of a rich but complicated marriage, pondering what it means to be sucked back into your life's work even if it might kill you, and demanding that the reader use his or her brain to figure out what comes next. When you're finished, you may not trust silly parlor games ever again.”--Salon “Savor the sense of loss that haunts this strong debut.”--Houston Chronicle “John Verdon has…created an incredible crime novel which could give Steig Larsson a run for his well-earned money…All of the characters are incredibly well developed…The descriptions of scenes make you feel like you are there, and the plot is brilliant.”--The Herald-Dispatch (West Virginia) “Will hook just about any reader…An astoundingly addictive work filled with real life characters that jump off the page into a daring and skillful plot, this book will leave you stumped and hungry for more…THINK OF A NUMBER excels in its interweaving of wonderful characterization and psychological Insight…[Verdon] has created a book for all readers, not just those who revel in the thriller genre.”– New York Journal of Books “The mystery is brilliantly executed…If you read only one thriller this year, make it THINK OF A NUMBER.”-- Bookloons “Think of a number between one and ten…Now multiply that by zero. Which is how many times you’ll put this book down.” --Mystery Scene "The numbers game gets a murderous spin in Verdon’s deft, literate debut."--Publishers Weekly"Verdon’s superb debut novel is a riveting thriller with a wonderfully baffling crime. Think of a Number is a 10, and crime fans of almost every persuasion will love it. An outstanding debut."— Thomas Gaughan, Booklist (Starred Review)“Addictive and thoroughly engrossing…In THINK OF A NUMBER, Verdon plays deliciously on our deepest, most primal fears, portraying a killer who seems to see right into people’s minds.  Few readers will be able to resist the lure of watching an unstoppable detective track an uncatchable killer.  This tale will grab hold of you like a steel jaw trap."--Joseph Finder, New York Times bestselling author of VANISHED “Verdon's premise is clever and his police work convincing, which right there might be enough; but the real joy of this book is its characters.  Each one, no matter how minor, is unique and beautifully observed.  THINK OF A NUMBER had me from the opening pages and carried me right along.”-- S.J. Rozan, Edgar-winning author of THE SHANGHAI MOON"Spectacular and mind-bending, THINK OF A NUMBER is the best thriller I've read in a long, long time. John Verdon's writing is so polished, so nuanced, it makes me envious that I didn't write this terrific novel."-- Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of ICE COLD“With its edge-of-the-chair suspense, memorable characters that jump off the pages, and elegant and deft writing, John Verdon's THINK OF A NUMBER is a stunning debut.”--Faye Kellerman, New York Times bestseller author of STONE KISS and THE FORGOTTEN“THINK OF A NUMBER is truly unputdownable.  Rarely have I read a debut novel that has gripped me as this one has from the first page to the last.  This book doesn’t just entertain – it engages you and draws you immediately into the lives of the characters, who are as real as real can be.  John Verdon has written a flawless novel about flawed people and he’s written it beautifully.  I hope we see a lot more of John Verdon and his smart protagonist, Dave Gurney, in years to come.”--Nelson DeMille, New York Times bestseller author of THE LION’S GAME, THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER and GOLD COAST"John Verdon's THINK OF A NUMBER is one of the finest thrillers I've read in years. I devoured it.  Consistently intelligent, fast-paced, filled with clever twists and psychological insight, and characters that come alive on every page, it entertains from the opening set-piece, right through the tension-filled ending. In a genre frequently and sadly known for delivering more of the same old familiar stuff, THINK OF A NUMBER stands out as original and exciting. If there were a line-up of upcoming mystery-thriller suspects,  I have little doubt that just about every witness would pick out THINK OF A NUMBER.”--John Katzenbach, New York Times bestselling author of THE TRAVELER, JUST CAUSE and HART’S WAR “John Verdon’s THINK OF A NUMBER is simply one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a lifetime of thriller reading -- eloquent, heart-rending, deeply suspenseful on many levels, and relentlessly intelligent.  The characters live and breathe, the plot is diabolically clever and airtight, and the prose is sublime.  Absolutely not to be missed! At one stroke, Verdon establishes himself as a bright star in the thriller firmament.”--John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of  THE SUSPECT, BETRAYAL and A PLAGUE OF SECRETS “Just when you think the serial killer thriller has been done to death, someone comes along and revives it!  THINK OF A NUMBER is written with pace, style and intelligence. It has rounded characters, teasing puzzles, and lots of tension. The number I'm thinking of is 1!”--Reginald Hill, author of RULING PASSION and MIDNIGHT FUGUE and winner of the Crime Writer’s Association Dagger Award for Lifetime Achievement "THINK OF A NUMBER is a subtle and intelligent thriller of the first order.  With his gripping premise, well-drawn characters, and relentless escalation of suspense, John Verdon has penned an exciting debut.  Don't miss it."--Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author of DIE FOR YOU “THINK OF A NUMBER is a dark, disturbing, and completely compelling debut.It's got menacing puzzles you won't be able to figure out, a villain who will raise the hairs on the back of your neck, and a wonderful main character in retired homicide cop Dave Gurney. The pages turn themselves.”--Spencer Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of DOG ON IT!"I loved this book. It’s at once familiar to thriller readers and something incredibly new. It’s a puzzle mystery and a police procedural and a cautionary tale about loss and love—the book literally has something for everyone, with a conclusion so eerily perfect it could have been scripted by Hitchcock himself. This is a thriller that will rewrite the rules of the genre."—Will Lavender, New York Times bestselling author of OBEDIENCE