John Verdon’s cleverness shines in new thriller
“Peter Pan Must Die” (Crown), by John Verdon
John Verdon’s skillful melding of the puzzle mystery with the police procedural and the psychological thriller brings a unique spin to his series about retired NYPD homicide Detective Dave Gurney.
“Peter Pan Must Die” again presents Dave with a seemingly insurmountable problem — a murder that, on the surface, was impossible to perform. Verdon expertly takes the novel through a labyrinth of twists that, however outlandish at first, are totally believable.
Dave is asked by former colleague Jack Hardwick to help overturn the murder conviction of Kay Spalter, who is in prison for shooting her wealthy husband, Carl, at his mother’s funeral. Dave doesn’t particularly like Jack, but feels responsible because Jack lost his job with the state police after helping Dave with a case.
Jack wants Dave to find irregularities in the investigation that would lead to an appeal. But Dave wants to find out what happened, whether that points to Jack’s client or another suspect. “I’d like to think of myself as a seeker of truth, but I’m probably just an exposer of lies,” Dave says.
Dave’s investigation shows him that the details of the murder were fabricated, and it leads him to several people who had a grudge against the victim, who also was a gubernatorial candidate running on an anti-organized crime platform.
While a strong crime fiction story fuels “Peter Pan Must Die,” the dynamics between Dave and his wife, Madeleine, continue to be the center of Verdon’s series. Madeleine wants Dave to be content to live on the farm they bought near the Catskills in upstate New York. She takes delight in building a chicken coop and enjoying the scenery while Dave, who took early retirement at 48, is restless. Where she sees a tranquil landscape, he sees the potential for violence. She worries that Dave’s involvement in the occasional case belies a deeper psychological unease.
Verdon’s plot devices are intelligently layered in “Peter Pan Must Die.” The denouement is one of the most unusual in crime fiction, and yet is perfectly logical. Verdon’s cleverness again shines in “Peter Pan Must Die.”