Book Review: Think of a Number by John Verdon

7853137Title: Think of a Number

Author: John Verdon

Genre: Thriller, Mystery and Suspense

Age Group: Adult

Rating: 5 stars

Purchase: Amazon

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

Think of a Number is one of the most original mystery novels I’ve read all year. It goes above and beyond what most mystery novels offer, and gives us a true brain puzzle. Main character Dave Gurney is the NYPD’s top homicide investigator. He’s recently retired, and struggled to adapt to a calm, comfortable life. His mind yearns for another puzzle to solve, and when an old classmate contacts him about a troubling letter arrived in his mailbox, Dave 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. However, when his friend is found murdered, the mystery takes on a whole new level.

I loved the writing style, the complexity of the mystery at hand, the depth of researching Dave has to do before solving it. The mystery turns from a puzzle into a murder mystery, and when more people turn up murdered, the stakes rise, and it becomes personal for Dave. With the first victim murdered in the snow, and footsteps leading back to a particular area but then stopping all of the sudden, with the police finding a chair and some cigarettes, as if someone was waiting for him to come out, and with a broken glass bottle in the proximity, Dave falls upon the mystery of a lifetime.

What I enjoyed the most, besides trying to solve the mystery along with Dave – and failing until the end (which is rare for me, usually I figure this out way sooner), was how Dave is a retired detective. He’s technically not even meant to be involved in solving a murder anymore, but he wriggles his way in and, obsessed as he is with solving puzzles, is always one step ahead of everyone else. I also liked finding out about his history, about what shaped him into the man he is today, and was intrigued to find out what happened to sabotage his marriage.

A well-written, fast-paced, amazing puzzle of a book that will give you lots of joy trying to solve the mystery. Ideal for anyone who loves a good murder mystery with some subplots and intriguing characters. This is the author’s debut, but I’m confident he’ll write much more.


  1. Thriller, mystery AND suspense…..perfect kind of book for me! I can’t get enough of books like that and “Think of a Number” sounds fantastic! You might like a book that I’m finishing up now called “Publics: Libertas Aut Mors” by Baltazar Bolado, My sister suggested it to me and I haven’t been able to put it down! Thank you so much for this review and suggestion, I’m looking for me next read and this might be it!

Speak Your Mind