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Shut Your Eyes Tight (Dave Gurney, No. 2): A Novel Hardcover – July 12, 2011
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Except what if one day there wasn’t?
Dave Gurney, a few months past the Mellery case that pulled him out of retirement and then nearly killed him, is trying once again to adjust to his country house’s bucolic rhythms when he receives a call about a case so seductively bewildering that the thought of not looking into it seems unimaginable—even if his beloved wife, Madeleine, would rather he do anything but.
The facts of what has occurred are horrible: a blushing bride, newly wed to an eminent psychiatrist and just minutes from hearing her congratulatory toast, is found decapitated, her head apparently severed by a machete. Though police investigators believe that a Mexican gardener killed the young woman in a fit of jealous fury, the victim’s mother—a chilly high-society beauty—is having none of it. Reluctantly drawn in, Dave is quickly buffeted by a series of revelations that transform the bizarrely monstrous into the monstrously bizarre.
Underneath it all may exist one of the darkest criminal schemes imaginable. And as Gurney begins deciphering its grotesque outlines, some of his most cherished assumptions about himself are challenged, causing him to stare into an abyss so deep that it threatens to swallow not just him but Madeleine, too.
Desperate to protect Madeleine and bring an end to the madness, Gurney ultimately discovers that the killer has left a trace after all. Unfortunately, the revelation may come too late to save his own life.
With Shut Your Eyes Tight, John Verdon delivers on the promise of his internationally bestselling debut, Think of a Number, creating a portrait of evil let loose across generations that is as rife with moments of touching humanity as it is with spellbinding images of perversity.
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Lisa Scottoline is the New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award-winning author of 18 novels including her latest, Save Me. She is President of Mystery Writers of America and writes a weekly column, Chick Wit, with her daughter Francesca Serritella for the Philadelphia Inquirer. The columns have been collected in Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog and My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space.
Voice is the hallmark of a great writer, and I loved John Verdon’s riveting Shut Your Eyes Tight from page one, because I fell in love with his voice.
Yes, the plot is a humdinger, too, with a bride turning up dead on her wedding day, whereupon former NYPD police detective Dave (“Don’t call me Davey”) Gurney is called out of an uneasy retirement to investigate the crime and find the killer. Gurney’s been settling into a country life in the Catskills, trying to force himself to think about mulch and bulldozers, but it ain’t working out so great. His superbly-drawn (if realistically tart-tongued) wife is hoping they can spend more time together, but Gurney is a “natural-born onion peeler” and he can’t sit on his hands when murder strikes in nearby, ritzy Tambury.
Gurney starts digging, asking thoughtful questions, and interviewing the society types who knew the bride, and soon his dining room table is covered with notes and gruesome crime-scene photos that his wife wishes weren’t around when dinner guests arrive. Yet Gurney persists, seeking the truth in his quiet, self-assured way.
The plot comes to life on the first page, but as I say, what keeps the pages turning is the pitch-perfect, intriguing voice of this “hero,” a term I know that Dave Gurney would hate. He’s super-smart, but the last one to brag. He loves his wife, but he doesn’t get all mawkish about her. He’s haunted by the death of his young child, but he doesn’t even say that aloud. Even his diversions are fascinating; you’ll never forget his theory of “The Eureka Fallacy,” a lesson in police analysis that applies to your everyday life. And he goes about serving justice, despite all the personal costs at home, with a care and concern that you realize, by the end, is characteristic.
I know that you’ll want to hear more from Dave Gurney and this amazingly talented author, John Verdon. I can’t wait for his next book.A Letter from Author John Verdon
“How on earth did you put this together?”
That’s probably the question I was asked most frequently about my first Dave Gurney multi-layered thriller, Think of a Number. And now the early readers of the second novel in the series, Shut Your Eyes Tight, an even twistier tale, are asking it again.
I guess the best way to answer the question is to describe how these complex stories seem to develop in my mind. For me, there are two starting points for every mystery-thriller. There is the largely concealed action of the criminal—the true extent and nature of which will drive the plot, creating an increasing level of danger and destruction. And there is a specific mysterious result of that criminal action that initially touches and involves the crime-solver—drawing him into an ever higher level of confrontation with the underlying evil enterprise.
In Think of a Number, the initial tip of the criminal iceberg is a chilling and seemingly clairvoyant series of letters received by Dave Gurney’s old college classmate. As other baffling and murderous bits of the iceberg come to the surface, Dave becomes more and more engaged, more personally challenged to find the pattern, the motive, the killer.
In Shut Your Eyes Tight, the first visible sign of something complex beneath the surface is far more horrific. A bride is decapitated at her own wedding reception—and Dave is drawn into the investigation by a disgruntled cop who believes the official investigation is off-track.
My personal approach is to develop a story like Shut Your Eyes Tight on two simultaneous tracks that gradually become more and more entwined. The criminal does something that gets the attention of the detective; the detective begins his examination of the situation; the criminal escalates his activity, producing results that further involve the detective; the detective’s intensified investigative actions provoke more desperate responses by the criminal, building to a climactic high-risk confrontation and the revelation of the full architecture of the very nasty iceberg.
For me, the key to the credible development of this kind of a narrative lies in understanding my characters—their motives, emotions, and potential for interaction. But you know what part of the process excites and inspires me the most? It’s the part where I imagine that first visible hint of the monster beneath the surface. Whenever I see a horror or science-fiction movie, the great moment is that first glimpse of trouble.
I remember an old black-and-white movie I saw, probably back in the 1950s. A happy little family on vacation spent the night in their camping trailer by a back road in the desert. In the morning, one of the children, chasing a ball, comes upon a very strange footprint in the sand—nothing recognizably human or animal.
A clichéd opening? Sure. But it gave me gooseflesh, and I loved it! And of course, there is that remarkable scene near the beginning of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, in which the young hero, walking through the woods, happens upon a human ear.
I believe that a lot of the power and appeal of any narrative flows from its initial image of trouble. It’s the imaginative flash of lightning that illuminates the path into the story—for writer and reader alike.
“The crime is grisly and the cop is complicated. A nice combination.”--New York Daily News
“For anyone who loves a good puzzle, John's Verdon's SHUT YOUR EYES TIGHT is the easy answer.”--CNN.com
"Verdon, who hit a home run with his debut novel, THINK OF A NUMBER, has now nailed another one."--Booklist (Starred review)
"Absorbing complications, perfect pacing and a conflicted protagonist (endearing for his introspection)...The author's insight, which imbues the story with tremendous humanity, make this a must-read for thriller fans who enjoy tales that are not only gripping but believable." Library Journal (starred review)
"Verdon follows THINK OF A NUMBER, his sensational debut featuring retired NYPD detective Dave Gurney, with this standout sequel, set a year later. [The elements:] a bizarre, high-profile murder…an apparent impossibility involving the murder weapon, and once again…a relationship in crisis."--Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
- Publisher : Crown; First Edition (July 12, 2011)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 528 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0307717895
- ISBN-13 : 978-0307717894
- Item Weight : 1.15 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.48 x 1.62 x 9.51 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,673,014 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #63,319 in Suspense Thrillers
- #89,238 in Action & Adventure Fiction (Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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The facts of the case are horrible: a young and happy bride, newly wed to an successful and well-known psychiatrist, is found decapitated while still in her wedding gown, her head apparently severed by a machete. Based on where the murder took place, the police investigators believe that the psychiatrist’s Mexican gardener killed the young woman in a fit of jealous fury. This is supported by the fact that all of the video footage from the wedding accounts for everyone else’s whereabouts and the bride was seen entering the gardener’s cottage moments before the toast.
Although the police have identified the murder weapon and the perpetrator, the gardener seems to have vanished off the face of the earth. The victim’s mother—a chilly high-society woman—is having none of it and loses patience with the police. She turns to Gurney. As Gurney gets drawn into the case, he begins to discover that things (including the bride and her groom) aren’t quite as idyllic they seem. In fact, it seems that Gurney may have stumbled onto a much larger conspiracy that involves a possible serial killer…
Summing it up: 3.5/5 stars. I felt the pace in this book was slightly more consistent than in his first book, and Verdon lays out the twisty mechanics of the crime in a clear, organized, and engaging way. I really felt like I was rooting for Dave Gurney this time around, rather than just being mildly annoyed with him. In addition to the well-paced plot, Verdon also gives a convincing urgency to Gurney’s personal dilemmas regarding his “art career”, which further helps to create a somewhat more believeable and (as I’ve said) less annoying portrait of his marriage and other relationships.
For me it still doesn’t hit the mark for a 5/5 review because some of the details of the resolution were just a little too hard to believe. For example, the late influx of a mysterious family of gangsters felt a bit contrived – like it was tossed in simply to add to the suspense and keep readers engaged - – - but it just led me to question whether the book really needed to be as long as it was. In fact, thinking back on it, the plot did get a little convoluted toward the end, and it was hard to keep track of the core of the story and keep all the secondary criminal characters straight.
Despite these criticisms, I enjoyed reading Shut Your Eyes Tight. Readers who enjoy mysteries and thrillers would probably like it as well, and it is well-suited for a summer read (lots of thrills; not too much “deep” thinking). However, be warned that it’s not necessarily a quick read—coming in at just over 400 pages. In the end, I thought that Verdon’s engaging and well-timed plot far outweighed his occasional excesses. Shut Your Eyes Tight is a strong follow-up to the author’s first book, Think of a Number, and if I had to chose just one to read, I would probably select this one.
At his best, Verdon is playing in the Agatha Christie and P.D. James league, with complicated story lines, rich collections of characters whose motives and capacities are not clearly glimpsed for quite some time, and a hidden background narrative whose exposure will ultimately solve the core crime or crimes. But this potential is heavily burdened in Verdon's first two books with types from other genres of procedural fiction -- the self-serving District Attorney, the moronic or dyspeptic cops with whom our intellectually superior and ever cool protagonist must contend, and so forth. Two or three different types of formula fiction are being blended here, and the mix is not always a happy one.
If you can stand multiple decapitation murders, child molesters who are little more than children themselves, and a bunch of rich old psychopaths who show up from time to time to menace either Gurney or one of the many young people in this novel who seem to exist only to be threatened, then maybe you will appreciate this novel more than I did. I can't fault Gurney's style or his ability to move a narrative along, but the sick stuff really needs to be dialed back in order to have a balanced narrative.
I doubt Verdon will see this review, but he needs to hear this from somebody: The short chapter printed in italics and presented as the villain's point of view is just a useless convention of threat fiction these days. Such short blocks of text don't advance the story, they don't increase a sense of tension, they don't help misdirect the reader in any clever or sophisticated way, and they are the hallmark of a programmatic writer rather than an involved and thoughtful one. If you are one of the editors that Verdon thanked so extensively in his afterword to this novel, you owe it to your client to keep him from doing that again. Hacks use that technique. Serious writers, which Verdon has the potential to be, should be encouraged to avoid the formulas that lesser novelists use because they haven't the imagination to solve narrative challenges without insulting a reader's intelligence.
Overall: good effort with great moments (mostly conversational -- Verdon can write great dialog), but far from perfect. I see Gurney number three is available. I will give that one a try in the near future, but if it still has disappointing elements I may not get to number four.
Top reviews from other countries
But there's more to this than a merely tale of cerebral deduction. Virtually everyone in the dead woman's family seems to have serious issues/problems, and there's a particularly horrible sort of commercialized sexual perversion that's uncovered, so this gives the story a modern "psychopathic" feel.
Gurney's more Dr. Fell than Jack Reacher, so he doesn't go in all guns blazing (or even seem to have a gun) but he's a good character and he has some interesting supporting characters as well (his long-suffering wife, a clever but cynical colleague still in the police, necessary to get various bits of information that a civilian can't access). Like John Dickson Carr's own work, the reader wonders at the end (a) whether anyone could have got away with anything as complicated as this in real life, and (b) whether all the loose ends have actually been explained, but I liked this book a lot.
This is the second in Verdon's series featuring the retired detective and like its predecessor Think of a Number it's very well written. Although not as clever as it wants to be, this is a good enough book. As other reviewers have stated this is a thriller with a bit of depth, despite the punchy front cover it's a slow moving story, one that without such well written characters I would have become bored with quite soon. Worth a read if you like a thriller you have to think about but read Think of a Number first to really get to grips with the characters.
As last time, the story is quite involved / unrealistic, though I found this more believable than the first ('Think of a Number'), which - with the poems that the killer sent, and the extra-ordinary complexity - was just too much.
Verdon has clearly learned from his first effort, improved the plotting, and produced a very good read.
I'm about to start his third (and most recent), and just hope that the denouement of this one is not our hero face to face with the killer, in a confined space, where the killer has got the drop on him! That's been the case in the first two stories - so I hope that there is a touch of variety in the next!