Peter Pan Must Die by John Verdon (Crown, July 2014)
Once again, John Verdon has written a seemingly impossible to commit crime that will take brilliant puzzle solver Dave Gurney to solve. Gurney recently retired as a top homicide cop from the NYPD and moved to upstate New York with his wife Madeleine, yet finds himself dragged back into investigations by Jack Hardwick who is not on the mayor’s list of most favorite detectives, but who has good instincts when it comes to things that just don’t feel right. And the conviction of Kay Spalter for shooting her husband, a real estate mogul who planned to run for governor, while he was giving the eulogy graveside at his mother’s funeral doesn’t feel right. Mrs. Spalter was arrested and charged with attempted murder, but when Spalter died during the trial, the charges were amended to murder and Mrs. Spalter is now doing twenty-five to life. Hardwick is convinced that Mrs. Spalter was set up by a dirty cop and is innocent, at least of shooting her husband. Gurney is convinced that Hardwick is out for revenge against a system he feels has not done right by him, but cannot resist a challenge and agrees to look at the files in spite of his wife’s protestations. Gurney quickly discerns that the investigator in the case was in fact corrupt and finds himself in the middle of an odd group of people including a very welcoming mob boss, a pint sized assassin who has earned the nickname Peter Pan, and a wife who insists she didn’t commit murder, a wife who Gurney finds himself believing: in spite of all her other faults and shortcomings where her husband is concerned, Gurney doesn’t believe she is a murderer. The more layers of the case Gurney peels back, the more he is convinced there is only one answer, an answer that is so unbelievable, even Gurney can’t accept it, even as it stares him right in the face. Gorgeous prose is juxtaposed against violet, gruesome, unimaginable crimes. Madeleine, who is willing to accept retirement gracefully, has a calm, that is almost preternatural, that is in sharp contrast to Gurney as he is always in motion, always thinking, a partnership that may not be working for both of them in bucolic New York State. With puzzles that are diabolically clever, well-wrought characters and a serene, calm setting waiting for when Gurney is ready, Peter Pan Must Die will win new legions of fans for John Verdon and satisfy those who have been with him from the beginning.