Written by John Verdon – Detective Dave Gurney is a living legend. He was once an eminent NYPD homicide detective. Now he’s retired, but that doesn’t stop him from solving crimes and foiling homicidal sociopaths. Let the Devil Sleep is the third of Gurney’s adventures, written by former advertising exec John Verdon. Intricately plotted thrillers are Verdon’s hallmark. If that’s what you want to read, you will likely not be disappointed by Let the Devil Sleep.
As Verdon’s novel opens, Gurney is still recovering from a gunshot sustained in his preceding case, detailed in Shut Your Eyes Tight. He isn’t given much time to recuperate, however. A reporter friend wants Gurney’s help for her college-age daughter. The daughter, Kim, is the unlikely host of a reality television show and is interested in the emotional fallout resulting from the Good Shepherd killer 10 years earlier. The Good Shepherd was seemingly an ideological firebrand, and published a scathing manifesto denouncing capitalist greed.
Kim’s show, Orphans of Murder, consists of interviews with family members of Good Shepherd victims. The cases haven’t been solved, and the serial killer has never been caught. Someone doesn’t want Orphans of Murder to be made. Sabotage and intimidation are aimed at Kim – and at Dave Gurney – once he begins to assist her. Kim’s mentally unstable boyfriend is the obvious culprit. But Gurney isn’t so sure.
The FBI investigation of the Good Shepherd killings was heavily dependent on a profile that assumed the killer was a crusader for his beliefs. As new killings mount, Gurney begins to question the decade-old assumptions that have guided the FBI’s search for the serial killer. Someone sinister doesn’t want him to. And the FBI doesn’t want him to, either.
Verdon does a good job of portraying the turf battles and politics sure to attend a high-profile investigation. Various law enforcement agencies fight for control of the investigation. The characters are alternately officious, irreverent, obsessed and self-important. The law enforcement officials are sketched believably by Verdon, and he makes the power-jockeying central to his twisting plot.
The plot will keep you turning the pages as fast as you can. Verdon serves up red herrings and keeps you off-balance throughout the novel, with each new detail carefully revealed. I was not only guessing the final outcome, but a number of other mysteries that were resolved slowly throughout Let the Devil Sleep. Verdon’s pacing is admirable, and each detail leaves you wanting to find the next.
Unfortunately, however, other aspects of Let the Devil Sleep do not quite live up to Verdon’s adept plotting. While he solves a fascinating mystery, Gurney does not make for a very engaging protagonist. He seems adept at deduction, but all of his other characteristics pale in comparison to his capacity to be overwhelming morose. Some of the other characters are engaging as stock characters, but none of them is very developed. While the plot will keep you guessing until the last pages, the eventual perp’s identity and motivations are underdeveloped as well. In Let the Devil Sleep, Verdon seems better at throwing out red herrings than crafting a credible villain.
Raymond Chandler is read today for the narration, dialogue and atmosphere – despite his problems with plotting. Atmosphere is paramount in much of crime fiction. Verdon is exactly the opposite. In Let the Devil Sleep, we’re given little in the way of atmosphere (beyond Gurney’s endless moping) or dialogue. But Verdon has what Chandler could not do: a tightly wound plot that moves at a compelling self-explanatory pace. If you want a thriller that keeps you guessing, Let the Devil Sleep is a book you should pick up.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars
US readers can purchase Let the Devil Sleep here.