Written by John Verdon — This is the author’s second book, and the second outing for his detective Dave Gurney, a phenomenal investigator who has retired from the NYPD and lives with his wife Madeleine in the Catskill foothills in upstate New York. He must have been doing well as a detective to end up with such a nice, peaceful property with a fieldstone fireplace, chickens, asparagus fern and some great views of the sky. But he has the restless mind of a problem solver and his relationship with his wife is creaking like the hardwood floors thanks to events in his previous mystery, Think of a Number.
So when he’s prodded into taking a second look at a case the local law enforcement are flummoxed by he tentatively accepts, puts a two week time limit on his involvement, and hopes Madeleine doesn’t get too upset. Jillian Ashton has been killed most dramatically, and horrifically. In the middle of her own wedding, her head was cut clean off. She was in the summerhouse talking to her new husband’s Mexican gardener Hector Flores when it happened. Nobody actually saw it and the Mexican is nowhere to be seen.
The woman’s mother hires Gurney as a consultant on the case and local law enforcement are none too happy about it but when he starts to make progress the district attourney brings him on board. It’s not just the police infighting that complicates things, though. The woman’s husband Scott Ashton is an odd character, treating child sex offenders from rich homes at a nearby institution called Mapleshade. She was his former patient! It turns out other graduates of his program have been going missing as well. Is the Mexican a twisted sexual molestation revenge killer?
In a subplot Gurney’s own vanity is put to the test. He’s been making digital art based on mugshots of mass murderers by touching them up in Photoshop, and a collector is interested in his work. He even has an agent, and she sets up a lunchtime meeting with the client – millions of dollars are on the table if he can sell his pictures. It sounds too good to be true and it is, because at lunch he’s served a roofie and has no memory of what happened to him from his second drink onwards. Is there a conspiracy going on?
Shut Your Eyes Tight largely takes the police procedural route with numerous moments of tension and confusion provided by Gurney’s undercover efforts, encounters with menacing possible culprits, and interrogations of the intelligent and powerful people who surround the case. There are lots of textured descriptions of everything from the characters’ foibles and tics to the quality of the coffee. However if you are looking for action and tension, the descriptiveness does break the pace. You’re reminded that Gurney has a fieldstone fireplace and an upper middle class diet just a little too often.
Despite Gurney’s ability to unravel complex problems and all his breakthroughs, Verdon keeps him and the reader in the dark until the final 30 pages and it goes off like a firecracker in the end. I liked Gurney and this story, and Verdon’s writing is cultured. However it would have worked better with a quicker pace and 100 fewer pages. Those who enjoy a prodecural mystery with a slow burn and plenty of angles will appreciate this one. A worthwile mystery, and at a good price on Kindle/iBook.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars