I am beyond thrilled to give readers a sneak peek into John Verdon’s latest novel Let the Devil Sleep (release date: July 24th, 2012) with this exclusive excerpt! Mr. Verdon is an amazing author and if you haven’t checked him out yet, I highly recommend that you do soon!!
Let the Devil Sleep by John Verdon
–Copyright 2012 by John Verdon
–Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York
Excerpt from Chapter 5 (pp. 49-53) 1,469 Words
Gurney parked next to Madeleine’s car by the side door of the farm- house. The mountain air felt chilly. He went into the house, hung up his jacket in the mudroom, continued on into the kitchen, and called out, “I’m home.” There was no response. The place had an indescribable deadness about it—a peculiar sort of emptiness it had only when Madeleine was out.
He had to go to the bathroom, started in that direction, then remembered that he’d forgotten to bring in Kim’s blue folder from the car. He went back out for it, but before he got to the car, something bright and red to the right of the parking area caught his eye. It was in the middle of the raised garden bed where Madeleine had planted flowers the previous year—a fact that was responsible for his first impression: that it was some sort of red blossom atop a straight stem. A second later it occurred to him that the time of year would make any blossom unlikely. However, when he reached the bed and realized what he was actually looking at, the truth didn’t make any more sense than a rose in full bloom would have.
The straight stem was the shaft of an arrow. The arrow was stick- ing point-down into the soft wet earth, and the “blossom” was the fletching on the notched end—three scarlet half feathers, shining brilliantly in the angled sun.
Gurney gazed at it wonderingly. Had Madeleine put it there? If so, where had she gotten it? Was she using it as some sort of marker? It looked new, unweathered, so it couldn’t have been under the snow the whole winter. If Madeleine hadn’t put it there, who could have? Was it possible it wasn’t “put” there at all but shot there by someone with a bow? To have ended up embedded like this at a nearly vertical angle, though, it would have to have been shot nearly vertically into the air. When? Why? By whom? Standing where?
He stepped up onto the low bed, grasped the shaft close to the ground, and slowly extracted it. It was tipped with a four-pronged razor broadhead—making it the kind of arrow that a hunter with a serious bow can propel clear through a deer. As he studied the deadly projectile, he was struck by the improbable coincidence of coming upon two sharp weapons surrounded by troubling questions on the same day.
Of course, Madeleine might have a simple explanation for the arrow. He took it into the house, to the kitchen sink, and rinsed it clean under the running water. The broadhead appeared to be carbon steel, keen enough to shave with. Which brought his mind back to the knife in Kim’s basement, which reminded him that her folder was still in the car. He laid the arrow gently on the pine sideboard and headed out through the little hallway past the mudroom.
As he opened the side door, he came face-to-face with Madeleine, dressed in one of her startling color combinations—rose sweatpants, a lavender fleece jacket, and an orange baseball cap. She had that pleasantly exercised, slightly-out-of-breath look she always had when she returned from a hill walk. He stepped back to let her in.
She smiled. “It’s soooo beautiful! Did you see that amazing light on the hillside? With that blush in the buds—did you notice that?”
“You didn’t see it? Oh, come here, come.” She led him outside by the arm, pointing happily to the trees beyond the upper pasture. “You only see it in the early spring—that hint of pink in the maples.”
Gurney saw what she was talking about but failed to share her blissful reaction. Instead the faint wash of color over the brownish gray background of the landscape jogged loose an old memory—one that sickened him: brownish gray water in a ditch next to an aban- doned service road behind La Guardia Airport, a faint reddish tint in the fetid water. The tint was oozing from a machine-gunned body just below the surface.
She looked at him with concern. “Are you okay?”
“Tired, that’s all.”
“You want some coffee?”
“No.” He said it sharply, didn’t know why.
“Come inside,” she said, taking off her jacket and hat and hanging them in the mudroom. He followed her into the kitchen. She went to the sink and turned on the tap. “How did your trip to Syracuse work out?”
It occurred to him that the damn blue folder was still in his car. “I can’t hear you with the water running,” he said. That made . . . what? Three times he’d forgotten to bring it in? Three times in the past ten minutes? Jesus.
She filled a glass and turned off the water. “I asked about your trip to Syracuse.”
He sighed. “The trip was peculiar. Syracuse is pretty bleak. Hold on . . . I’ll tell you about it in a minute.” He went out to the car and this time returned with the object in hand.
Madeleine looked perplexed. “I’d heard that there were some very nice old neighborhoods. Maybe not in the part of town you were in?”
“Yes and no. Nice old neighborhoods interspersed with neighborhoods from hell.”
She glanced at the folder in his hand. “Is that Kim’s project?”
“What? Oh. Yes.” He looked around for a place to put it and noticed the arrow where he’d left it on the sideboard. He pointed to it. “What do you know about that?”
“That?” She stepped closer, examined it without touching it. “Is that the thing I saw outside?”
“When did you see it?”
“I don’t know. When I went out. Maybe an hour ago?”
“You don’t know anything about it?”
“Only that it was sticking in the flower bed. I thought you’d put it there.” There was a long silence as he stared at the arrow and she stared at him. “You think someone is hunting up here?” she asked, her eyes narrowing.
“It’s not hunting season.”
“Maybe some drunk thinks it is.”
She glared at the arrow, then shrugged. “You look exhausted. Come, sit down.” She gestured toward the table by the French doors. “Tell me about your day.”
When he had recounted everything he could remember, including Kim’s request to hire him to accompany her to two meetings the following day, he searched Madeleine’s face for a reaction. But instead of commenting on his narrative, she changed the subject.
“I had kind of a weighty day, too.” She leaned forward as she spoke, her elbows on the table, and pressed her palms together in front of her face, resting her chin on her thumbs. She closed her eyes and, for what seemed like a very long time, said nothing.
Then she opened her eyes, put her hands in her lap, straightened her back. “Do you remember me mentioning the mathematician?”
“The math professor who was a client at the clinic?”
“He was originally referred to us as the result of a second DWI. Had career problems leading to no career at all, nasty divorce, alienation from his children, problems with the neighbors. Dark outlook, trouble sleeping, obsessed with the negative aspects of every situation he was involved in. Brilliant mind, but trapped in a downward spiral of depression. He came to three group sessions a week, plus one individual session. He was generally willing to talk. Or maybe I should say he was willing to complain, willing to blame everyone for everything. But never willing to do anything. Not even willing to leave the house, unless it was court-mandated. Wouldn’t take antidepressant medication, because that would mean accepting the fact that his own mental chemistry might be part of all his other problems. It’s almost funny. He was determined to do everything his way, and his way was to do nothing.” She smiled sadly and gazed out the window.
“Last night he shot himself.”
They sat quietly at the table for a long while, looking out over the hills from the crossed angles of their individual chairs. Gurney felt strangely unhooked from time and place.
“So,” she said, turning back to him, “the little lady wants to hire you. And all you have to do is follow her around and tell her how you think she’s handling herself?”
“That’s what she says.”
“You’re wondering if there might be more to it?”
“If today was any indication, there might be a few hidden twists.”
She gave him one of those long, thoughtful looks of hers that felt like explorations of his soul. Then, with evident effort, she constructed a bright smile. “With you on the job, I don’t imagine they’ll stay hidden long.”
About Let the Devil Sleep:
Dave Gurney takes a fresh look at a notorious serial murder case – one whose motives have been enshrined as law-enforcement dogma – and discovers that everyone has it wrong.
The most decorated homicide detective in NYPD history, Dave Gurney is still trying to adjust to his life of quasi-retirement in upstate New York when a young woman who is producing a documentary on a notorious murder spree seeks his counsel. Soon after, Gurney begins feeling threatened: a razor-sharp hunting arrow lands in his yard, and he narrowly escapes serious injury in a booby-trapped basement. As things grow more bizarre, he finds himself immersed the case of The Good Shepherd, which ten years before involved a series of roadside shootings and a rage-against-the-rich manifesto. The killings ceased, and a cult of analysis grew up around the case with a consensus opinion that no one would dream of challenging — no one, that is, but Dave Gurney.
Mocked even by some colleagues, Dave realizes that the killer is too clever to be found. The only gambit that may make sense is also the most dangerous – to make himself a target.
To survive, Gurney must rely on three allies: his wife Madeleine, impressively intuitive and a beacon of light in the gathering darkness; his de-facto investigative “partner” Jack Hardwick, always ready to spit in authorityʼs face but wily when it counts; and his son Kyle, who has come back into Gurneyʼs life with surprising force, love and loyalty.
Displaying all the hallmarks for which the Dave Gurney series is lauded — well-etched characters, deft black humor, and ingenious deduction that ends in a climactic showdown – Let the Devil Sleep is something more: a reminder of the power of self-belief in a world that contains too little of it.
A Conversation with
LET THE DEVIL SLEEP
Crown; July 24, 2012
Q. Let the Devil Sleep is now your third book featuring former NYPD detective Dave Gurney. When you first began writing novels, was your plan to create a series?
A. When I started writing Think of a Number, I wasn’t sure I could complete even one novel, much less a series. The series idea really had two distinct sources—encouragement from my agent and publisher and the development potential of the characters themselves. As Think of a Number took shape and the central characters came to life, it became clear that these people had an abundance of desires and issues and energies that could provide the backbone for a succession of new stories.
Q. Your first two books, Think of a Number and Shut Your Eyes Tight, have received fantastic praise and have gone on to become international bestsellers. Why do you think they’re so popular?
A. I can only guess at the answer from what I’ve read in the reviews. What people seem to like best is the combination of an exciting thriller plot with a closely examined relationship between the detective and his wife. Apparently, readers find the stories fast-paced and very entertaining, but they also feel that the characters are emotionally real.
Q. Speaking of characters, in Let the Devil Sleep we get to see a great deal more of Dave’s wife, Madeleine, and his son. Was that a progression you were always planning? Or a response to fans’ reactions?
A. That character progression seems natural and necessary to me now, but it was never planned. When I began work on Let the Devil Sleep, I imagined Dave would still be suffering from the after-effects of what happened to him in Shut Your Eyes Tight, and the change in his attitude would have an effect on how Madeleine related to him. I’m not sure we see more of Madeleine in terms of her overall presence, but we do see another side of her—so I guess it’s “more” in that sense. As for Kyle, it just seemed an appropriate time to move him from the periphery of Dave’s life into the middle of it. And a number of readers did influence that decision. After being teased by his shadowy presence in the first two books, they wanted to see more of Kyle. And so did I. Dave’s problems as a father—his awkwardness with love itself—had been alluded to many times. I wanted to bring that issue front and center.
Q. With three novels now officially under your belt, what have you learned since your first novel was published?
A. For me, the most gratifying discovery is that there is an enthusiastic audience for mystery-thrillers that take complicated relationship issues seriously. The fact is, this is the only kind of book I would be interested in writing. What engages me most thoroughly in the writing process is the interaction of complex characters. Often I feel that I am not so much “creating” them, but rather that I am watching them, listening to them, and taking notes. They seem to have lives, ambitions, and fears of their own—which I get to observe and describe. For me, that’s where the deepest pleasure of this profession resides.
Q. Will we see Gurney return in future novels?
A. Absolutely. Despite the epiphanies he experiences in Think of a Number, Shut Your Eyes Tight, and Let the Devil Sleep, Dave has a lot more to learn about himself, about his wife and son, and about the nature of the glue that attaches him to his profession. Like all of us, Dave acts on the basis of what he believes is true, and through the consequences of his actions he discovers the limitations of those beliefs and hopefully arrives at a new perception of who he is and what’s important. That’s a process that can be repeated through the cycles of a character’s growth.
Please be sure to visit John Verdon at the following links:
Website ~ Facebook
Other books in the “Dave Gurney Series”:
Think of a Number (Dave Gurney Series book 1)
An extraordinary fiction debut, Think of a Number is an exquisitely plotted novel of suspense that grows relentlessly darker and more frightening as its pace accelerates.
Arriving in the mail over a period of weeks are taunting letters that end with a challenge,“Think of any number…picture it…now see how well I know your secrets.” Those who comply find that the letter writer has predicted their random choice exactly.
For Dave Gurney, just retired as the NYPD’s top homicide investigator and forging a new life with his wife in upstate New York, the letters are oddities that begin as a diverting puzzle but quickly ignite a massive serial murder investigation.
As Dave matches wits with his seemingly clairvoyant opponent, his own tragedy-marred past rises up to haunt him and his marriage approaches a precipice. In the end, fighting to keep his bearings amid a whirlwind of destruction, Gurney sees the truth of what he’s become – what we all become when guilty memories fester – and how his wife Madeleine’s clear-eyed advice may be the only answer that makes sense.
A work that defies easy labels — at once a propulsive masterpiece of suspense and an absorbing immersion in the lives of characters so real we seem to hear their heartbeats – Think of a Number is a novel you’ll not soon forget.
Think of a Number by John Verdon
–Copyright 2010 by John Verdon
–Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York
The perfect place
Peony was a town twice removed from the history it sought to reflect. Adjacent to Woodstock, it pretended to the same tie-dyed, psychedelic, rock-concert past—while Woodstock in turn nourished its own ersatz aura through its name association with the pot-fogged concert that had actually been held fifty miles away on a farm in Bethel. Peony’s image was the product of smoke and mirrors, and upon this chimerical foundation had risen predictable commercial structures—New Age bookstores, tarot parlors, Wiccan and Druidical emporia, tattoo shops, performance-art spaces, vegan restaurants—a center of gravity for flower children approaching senility, Deadheads in old Volkswagen buses, and mad eclectics swathed in everything from leathers to feathers.
Of course, among these colorfully weird elements there were interspersed plenty of opportunities for tourists to spend money: stores and eateries whose names and decor were only a little outrageous and whose wares were tailored to the upscale visitors who liked to imagine they were exploring the cultural edge.
The loose web of roads radiating out from Peony’s business district led to money. Real-estate prices had doubled and tripled after 9/11, when New Yorkers of substantial means and galloping paranoia were captivated by the fantasy of a rural sanctuary. Homes in the hills surrounding the village grew in size and number, the SUVs morphed from Blazers and Broncos into Hummers and Land Rovers, and the people who came for country weekends wore what Ralph Lauren told them people in the country wore.
Hunters, firemen, and teachers gave way to lawyers, investment bankers, and women of a certain age whose divorce settlements financed their cultural activities, skin treatments, and mind-expanding involvements with gurus of this and that. In fact, Gurney suspected that the local population’s appetite for guru-based solutions to life’s problems may have persuaded Mark Mellery to set up shop there.
He turned off the county highway just before the village center, following his Google directions onto Filchers Brook Road—which snaked up a wooded hillside. This brought him eventually to a road- side wall of native slate, laid nearly four feet high. The wall ran parallel to the road, set back about ten feet, for at least a quarter of a mile. The setback was thick with pale blue asters. Halfway along the stretch of wall, there were two formal openings about fifty feet apart, the entrance and exit of a circular drive. Affixed to the wall at the first of these openings was a discreet bronze sign: mellery institute for spiritual renewal.
Turning in to the driveway brought the aesthetic of the place into sharper focus. Everywhere Gurney looked, he was given an impression of unplanned perfection. Beside the gravel drive, autumn flowers seemed to grow in haphazard freedom. Yet he was sure this casual image, not unlike Mellery’s, received careful tending. As in many haunts of the low-profile rich, the note intoned was one of meticulous informality, nature as it ought to be, with no wilting bloom left unpruned. Following the driveway brought Gurney’s car to the front of a large Georgian manor house, as gently groomed as the gardens.
Standing in front of the house and eyeing him with interest was an imperious man with a ginger beard. Gurney rolled down his win- dow and asked where the parking area might be found. The man replied with a plummy British accent that he should follow the drive to its end.
Unfortunately, this led Gurney out through the other opening in the stone wall onto Filchers Brook Road. He drove back around through the entrance and followed the drive again to the front of the house, where the tall Englishman again regarded him with interest.
“The end of the drive took me to the public road,” said Gurney. “Did I miss something?”
”What a bloody fool I am!” the man cried with exaggerated chagrin that seemed in conflict with his natural bearing. “I think I know everything, but most of the time I’m wrong!”
Gurney had an inkling he might be in the presence of a mad- man. He also at that point noticed a second figure in the scene. Standing back in the shadow of a giant rhododendron, watching them intently, was a dark, stocky man who looked as if he might be waiting for a Sopranos audition.
“Ah,” cried the Englishman, pointing with enthusiasm farther along the drive, “there’s your answer! Sarah will take you under her protective wing. She’s the one for you!” Saying this with high the- atricality, he turned and strode off, followed at some distance by the comic-book gangster.
Gurney drove on to where a woman stood by the driveway, solicitude writ large on her pudgy face. Her voice exuded empathy.
“Dear me, dear me, we’ve got you driving around in circles. That’s not a nice way to welcome you.” The level of concern in her eyes was alarming. “Let me take your car for you. Then you can go right into the house.”
“That’s not necessary. Could you just tell me where the parking area is?”
“Of course! Just follow me. I’ll make sure you don’t get lost this time.” Her tone made the task seem more daunting than one would imagine it to be.
She waved to Gurney to follow her. It was an expansive wave, as though she were commanding a caravan. In her other hand, at her side, she carried a closed umbrella. Her deliberate pace conveyed a concern that Gurney might lose sight of her. Reaching a break in the shrubbery, she stepped to the side, pointing Gurney into a narrow off- shoot of the driveway that passed through the bushes. As he came abreast of her, she thrust the umbrella toward his open window.
“Take it!” she cried.
He stopped, nonplussed.
“You know what they say about mountain weather,” she explained.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine.” He continued past her into the parking
area, a place that looked able to accommodate twice the cars currently there, which Gurney numbered at sixteen. The neat rectangular space was nestled amid the ubiquitous flowers and shrubs. A lofty copper beech at the far end separated the parking area from a three-story red barn, its color vivid in the slanting sunlight.
He chose a space between two gargantuan SUVs. While he was parking, he became aware of a woman watching the process from behind a low bed of dahlias. When he got out of the car, he smiled politely at her—a dainty violet of a woman, small-boned and delicate of feature, with an old-fashioned look about her. If she were an actress, thought Gurney, she’d be a natural to play Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst.
“I wonder if you could tell me where I might find Mark—” But the violet interrupted him with her own question.
“Who the fuck said you could park there?”
A unique ministry
From the parking area, Gurney followed a cobblestone pathway around the Georgian mansion, which he guessed would be used as the institute’s business office and lecture center, to a smaller Georgian house about five hundred feet behind it. A small gold-lettered sign by the path read private residence.
Mark Mellery opened the door before Gurney knocked. He wore the same sort of costly-casual attire he’d worn on his visit to Walnut Crossing. Against the background of the institute’s architecture and landscape, the apparel lent him a squire-like aura.
“Good to see you, Davey!”
Gurney stepped into a spacious chestnut-floored entry hall furnished with antiques, and Mellery led the way to a comfortable study toward the rear of the house. A blaze crackling softly in the fireplace perfumed the room with a hint of cherry smoke.
Two wing chairs stood opposite each other to the right and left of the fireplace and, with the sofa that faced the hearth, formed a U-shaped sitting area. When they were settled in the chairs, Mellery asked whether he’d had any trouble finding his way around the property. Gurney recounted the three peculiar conversations he’d had, and Mellery explained that the three individuals were guests of the institute and their behavior constituted part of their self-discovery therapy.
“In the course of his or her stay,” Mellery explained, “each guest plays ten different roles. One day he might be the Mistake Maker— that sounds like the role Worth Partridge, the British chap, was play- ing when you came upon him. Another day he might be the Helper—that’s the role Sarah, who wanted to park your car, was playing. Another role is the Confronter. The last lady you encountered sounds like she was playing that part with extra relish.”
“What’s the point?”
Mellery smiled. “People act out certain roles in their lives. The content of the roles—the scripts, if you will—is consistent and predictable, although generally unconscious and rarely seen as a matter of choice.” He was warming to his subject, despite the fact he must have spoken these explanatory sentences hundreds of times. “What we do here is simple, although many of our guests consider it pro- found. We make them aware of the roles they unconsciously play, what the benefits and costs of those roles are, and how they affect others. Once our guests see their patterns of behavior in the light of day, we help them see that each pattern is a choice. They can retain or discard it. Then—this is the most important part—we provide them a program of action to replace damaging patterns with healthier ones.”
The man’s anxiety, Gurney noted, receded as he spoke. The subject had put an evangelical brightness in his eyes.
“By the way, all this might sound familiar to you. Pattern, choice, and change are the three most overused words in the whole shabby world of self-help. But our guests tell us that what we do here is different—the heart of it is different. Just the other day, one of them said to me, ‘This is the most perfect place on earth.’”
Gurney tried to keep skepticism out of his voice. “The therapeutic experience you provide must be very powerful.”
“Some find it so.”
“I’ve heard that some powerful therapies are quite confrontational.”
“Not here,” said Mellery. “Our approach is soft and welcoming.
Our favorite pronoun is we, not you. We speak about our failings and fears and limitations. We never point at anyone and accuse them of anything. We believe that accusations are more likely to strengthen the walls of denial than to break them down. After you look through one of my books, you’ll understand the philosophy better.”
“I just thought things might occasionally happen on the ground, so to speak, that weren’t part of the philosophy.”
“What we say is what we do.”
“No confrontations at all?”
“Why do you belabor the point?”
“I was wondering if you’d ever kicked anyone hard enough in the balls to make him want to kick you back.”
“Our approach rarely makes anyone angry. Besides, whoever my pen pal is, he’s from a part of my life long before the institute.”
“Maybe, maybe not.”
A confused frown appeared on Mellery’s face. “He’s fixated on my drinking days, something I did drunk, so it has to be before I founded the institute.”
“On the other hand, it could be someone involved with you in the present who read about your drinking in your books and wants to scare you.”
As Mellery’s gaze wandered through a new array of possibilities, a young woman entered. She had intelligent green eyes and red hair pulled back in a ponytail.
“Sorry to intrude. I thought you might want to see your phone messages.”
She handed Mellery a small pile of pink message notes. His surprised expression gave Gurney the sense that he was not often interrupted this way.
“At least,” she said, raising an eyebrow significantly, “you might want to look at the one on top.”
Mellery read it twice, then bent forward and handed the message form across the table to Gurney, who also read it twice.
On the “To” line was written: Mr. Mellery.
On the “From” line was written: X. Arybdis.
In the space allocated to “Message” were the following lines of verse:
Of all the truths
you can’t remember,
here are the truest two:
Every act demands its price.
And every price comes due.
I’ll call tonight to promise you
I’ll see you in November
or, if not, in December.
Gurney asked the young woman if she herself had taken the message. She glanced at Mellery.
He said, “I’m sorry, I should have introduced you. Sue, this is an old and good friend of mine, Dave Gurney. Dave, meet my wonderful assistant, Susan MacNeil.”
“Nice to meet you, Susan.”
She smiled politely and said, “Yes, I was the one who took the message.”
“Man or woman?”
She hesitated. “Odd you should ask. My first impression was a man. A man with a high voice. Then I wasn’t sure. The voice changed.”
“At first it sounded like a man trying to sound like a woman. Then I got the idea that it might be a woman trying to sound like a man. There was something unnatural about it, something forced.”
“Interesting,” said Gurney. “One more thing—did you write down everything this person said?”
She hesitated. “I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
“It looks to me,” he said, holding up the pink slip, “like this message was dictated to you carefully, even the line breaks.”
“So he must have told you that the arrangement of the lines was important, that you should write them exactly as he dictated them.”
“Oh, I see. Yes, he did tell me where to start each new line.”
“Was anything else said that’s not actually written here?”
“Well . . . yes, he did say one other thing. Before he hung up, he asked if I worked at the institute directly for Mr. Mellery. I said yes, I did. Then he said, ‘You might want to look at new job opportunities. I’ve heard that spiritual renewal is a dying industry.’ He laughed. He seemed to think it was very funny. Then he told me to make sure Mr. Mellery got the message right away. That’s why I brought it over from the office.” She shot a worried look at Mellery. “I hope that was okay.”
“Absolutely,” said Mellery, imitating a man in control of a situation.
“Susan, I notice you refer to the caller as ‘he,’” said Gurney. “Does that mean that you’re pretty sure it was a man?”
“I think so.”
“Did he give any indication what time tonight he planned to call?”
“Is there anything else you remember, anything at all, no matter how trivial?”
Her brow furrowed a little. “I got a sort of creepy feeling—a feeling that he wasn’t very nice.”
“He sounded angry? Tough? Threatening?”
“No, not that. He was polite, but . . .”
Gurney waited while she searched for the right words.
“Maybe too polite. Maybe it was the odd voice. I can’t say for sure what gave me the feeling. He scared me.”
After she left to go back to her office in the main building, Mellery stared at the floor between his feet. “It’s time to go to the police,” said Gurney, picking this moment to make his point.
“The Peony police? God, it sounds like a gay cabaret act.”
Gurney ignored the shaky attempt at humor. “We’re not just dealing with a few crank letters and a phone call. We’re dealing with someone who hates you, who wants to get even with you. You’re in his sights, and he may be about to pull the trigger.”
Shut Your Eyes Tight (Dave Gurney Series Bk 2)
A few months after the Mellery case pulled him out of retirement and nearly killed him, former NYPD homicide detective Dave Gurney receives a call about a case so bewildering that the thought of not looking into it seems unimaginable—even if his wife, Madeleine, would rather he do anything but.
The facts of what has occurred are horrible: a bride, newly wed to an eminent psychiatrist at his mountain estate, 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. Drawn further into the mystery, Dave is buffeted by a series of revelations that transform the bizarre into the truly monstrous.
Underneath it all exists one of the darkest criminal schemes imaginable. As Gurney beginsdeciphering its grotesque outlines, 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.
With Shut Your Eyes Tight, John Verdon delivers on the promise of his 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.
The magic Mr. Jykynstyl
The weather remained perfect for Gurney’s late-morning drive from the Catskills to New York City. As he sped down the thruway, the crisp air and clear sky energized his thoughts, made him optimistic about the impact he’d had on Kline and, to a lesser extent, on Rodriguez.
He wanted to follow up with Kline, find a way to ensure that he’d be kept in the loop. And he wanted to call Val, bring her up to date. But he also needed, right then and there, to give some thought to the meeting he was heading for. The meeting with the man from “the art world.” A man who wanted to give him a hundred thousand dollars for a graphically enhanced portrait of a lunatic. A man who might very well be a lunatic himself.
The address Sonya had given him turned out to be a brownstone residence in the middle of a hushed, tree-shaded block in Manhattan’s East Sixties. The neighborhood exuded the aroma of money, a genteel miasma that insulated the place from the bustle of the avenues around it.
He parked in a no-parking zone directly in front of the building— as she had instructed him, passing along Jykynstyl’s assurance that there would be no problem, that the car would be taken care of.
An oversize black-enameled front door led into an ornately tiled and mirrored vestibule, which led to a second door. Gurney was about to press the bell on the wall next to it when it was opened by a striking young woman. At second glance he realized that she was a rather ordinary-looking young woman whose overall appearance was elevated, or at least dominated, by extraordinary eyes—eyes that were now assessing him as one might assess the cut of a sport jacket or the freshness of a pie on a bakery shelf.
“Are you the artist?” He caught something volatile in her tone, something he couldn’t quite identify.
“I’m Dave Gurney.”
“Follow me.” They entered a large foyer. There was a coatrack, an umbrella stand, several closed doors, and a broad mahogany staircase rising to the next floor. The dark luster of her hair matched the dark wood. She led him past the staircase to a door, which she opened to reveal a small elevator with its own separate sliding door.
“Come,” she said with a slight smile that he found oddly disconcerting.
They got in, the door slid shut without a sound, and the elevator rose with hardly any sensation of motion.
Gurney broke the silence. “Who are you?”
She turned toward him, her remarkable eyes amused by some private joke. “I’m his daughter.” The elevator had stopped so smoothly that Gurney hadn’t felt it. The door slid open. She stepped out. “Come.”
The room was furnished in the style of an opulent Victorian parlor. Large-leafed tropical plants stood in floor pots at each side of a large fireplace. Several others stood next to armchairs. Beyond a wide arch at one end was a formal dining room, with table, chairs, sideboard, and carved woodwork, all of deeply polished mahogany. Dark green damask curtains covered the tall windows in both rooms, obscuring the time of day, the time of year—creating the illusion of an elegant, unanchored world where cocktails were always about to be served.
“Welcome, David Gurney. So good of you to come so far so quickly.”
Gurney followed the oddly accented voice to its source: a colorless little man dwarfed by the enormous leather club chair in which he was seated next to a towering rain-forest plant. He held in his small hand a diminutive cordial glass filled with a pale green liqueur.
“Forgive me if I don’t rise to greet you. I have difficulty with my back. Perversely, it is worst in the best weather. A troublesome mystery, no? Please seat yourself.” He gestured toward a matching chair facing his across a small Oriental rug. He wore faded jeans and a burgundy sweatshirt. His hair was short, thin, gray, perfunctorily combed. His hooded eyes created a superficial impression of sleepy detachment.
“You would like a drink. One of the girls will bring you something.” His indefinite accent seemed to have multiple European origins. “Myself, I have made again the mistake of choosing absinthe.” He raised his greenish liqueur and regarded it as one might a dis- loyal friend. “I do not recommend it. Since it has become legal and perfectly safe, it has, in my opinion, lost its soul.” He put the glass to his lips and drained off about half the contents. “Why do I keep going back to it? An interesting question. Perhaps I am a sentimentalist. But you, obviously, are no such thing. You are a great detective, a man of clarity, unencumbered by foolish attachments. So no absinthe for you. But something else. Whatever you would like.”
“A small glass of water?”
“L’acqua minerale? Ein Mineralwasser? L’eau gazéifiée?”
“Of course.” His sudden grin was as bright as bleached bones. “I should have known.” He raised his voice only slightly, in the way of someone accustomed to having servants in his vicinity. “A glass of cold tap water for our guest.” The strangely smiling girl who called herself his daughter left the room.
Gurney sat calmly in the chair to which the little man had directed him. “Why should you have known that I’d want tap water?”
“Because of what Ms. Reynolds told me of your character. You frown at that. That also I should have predicted. You look at me with your detective eyes. You ask yourself, ‘How much does this Jykynstyl know about me? How much has the Reynolds woman told him?’ Am I right?”
“You’re way ahead of me. I was just wondering about the connection between tap water and my character.”
“She told me that you are so complicated inside that you like to keep things simple on the outside. You agree with this?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“That’s very good,” he said, like an expert savoring an interesting wine. “She also warned me that you are always thinking and you always know more than you say.”
Gurney shrugged. “Is that a problem?”
Music began playing in the background, so softly that its low notes were hardly audible. It was a sad, slow, pastoral melody on a cello. Its whispered presence in the room reminded Gurney of the English garden scents that subtly penetrated the interior of Scott Ashton’s house.
The wispy-haired little man smiled and sipped his absinthe. A young woman with a dramatic figure on display in low-cut jeans and an even lower-cut T-shirt entered the room through the arch at the far end and approached Gurney with a crystal glass of water on a silver tray. She had the eyes and mouth of a cynic twice her age. As Gurney took the glass, Jykynstyl was answering his question.
“It’s certainly not a problem for me. I love a man of substance, a man whose mind is larger than his mouth. This is the kind of man you are, no?” When Gurney didn’t answer, Jykynstyl laughed. It was a dry, humorless sound. “I see that you are also a man who likes to get to the point. You want to know exactly why we are here. Very well, David Gurney. Here is the point: I am perhaps your greatest fan. Why am I? For two reasons. First, I believe that you are a great portrait artist. Second, I intend to make a lot of money on your work. Please notice which of these reasons I put first. I can tell from the work you’ve done already that you have a rare talent for bring- ing the mind of a man into the lines of his face, for letting the soul show through the eyes. This is a talent that thrives on purity. It is not the talent of a man who is mad for money or attention, a man who strives to be agreeable, a man who talks too much. It is the talent of a man who values the truth in all his affairs—business, professional, artistic. I suspected you were such a man, but I wanted to be sure.” He held Gurney’s steady gaze for what seemed like a very long time before going on. “What would you like for lunch? There is cold sea bass rémoulade, a lime seviche of shellfish, quenelles de veau, a lovely Kobe steak tartare—whichever you prefer, or perhaps a bit of each?”
As he spoke, he began slowly extricating himself from his chair. He paused, searching for a place to deposit his little glass, shrugged, and placed it delicately into the overgrown plant pot next to him. Then, grasping the arms of his chair with both hands, he pushed himself with considerable effort to his feet and led the way through the arched doorway to the dining room.
The most arresting feature of the space was a life-size portrait in a gilded frame hanging in the center of the long wall facing the arch. Gurney’s limited knowledge of art history placed its source somewhere in the Dutch Renaissance.
“It is remarkable, no?” said Jykynstyl.
“I’m glad you like it. I will tell you about it as we eat.”
Two places were set across from each other at the table. The entrées that Jykynstyl had named were arrayed between them on four china platters, along with bottles of Puligny-Montrachet and Château Latour, wines that even a non-oenophile like Gurney recognized as wildly expensive.
Gurney opted for the Montrachet and the bass, Jykynstyl for the Latour and the tartare.
“Are both of the girls your daughters?”
“That is correct, yes.”
“And you live here together?”
“From time to time. We are not a family of a fixed location. I come and go. It is the nature of my life. My daughters live here when they are not living with someone else.” He spoke of these arrangements in a tone that seemed to Gurney as deceptively casual as his sleepy gaze.
“Where do you spend most of your time?”
Jykynstyl laid his fork down on the edge of his plate as though ridding himself of an obstruction to clear expression. “I don’t think in that way, of being here for a length of time or there for another length of time. I am . . . in motion. Do you understand?”
“Your answer is more philosophical than my question. I’ll ask it another way. Do you have homes like this anywhere else?”
“Family members in other countries sometimes put me up, or they put up with me. In English you have these two phrases—close but not the same, correct? But maybe in my case they are both true.” He displayed his cold ivory smile. “So I am a homeless man with many homes.” The mongrelized accent, from nowhere and everywhere, seemed to grow stronger to reinforce his nomadic claim. “Like the wonderful Mr. Wordsworth, I wander lonely as a cloud. In search of golden daffodils. I have a good eye for these daffodils. But having a good eye is not enough. One must also look. This is my double secret, David Gurney: a good eye and I am always looking. This to me is far more important than living in a particular place. I do not live here or live there. I live in the activity, in the movement. I am not a resident. I am a searcher. This is maybe a little like your own life, your own profession. Am I right?”
“I can see your point.”
“You can see my point, but you don’t really agree with it.” He seemed more amused than offended. “And like all policemen, when it comes to questions you would rather ask them than answer them. A characteristic of your profession, is it not?”
“Yes, it is.”
He made a sound that might have been a laugh or a cough. His eyes supplied no clue as to which. “Then let me give you answers rather than questions. I am thinking you want to know why this crazy little man with the funny name wants to pay you so much money for these portraits that you do maybe pretty quickly and easily.”
Gurney felt a spark of annoyance. “Not that quickly, not that easily.” And then a spark of chagrin at voicing the objection.
Jykynstyl blinked. “No, of course not. Forgive my English. I think I speak it better than I do, but I am inadequate at the nuance. Shall I try again, or do you understand what I am trying to say?”
“I think I do.”
“So then, the basic question: Why do I offer so much money for this art of yours?” He paused, flashed the chilly grin. “Because it is worth it. And because I want it, exclusively, without competition. So I make you what I believe is a preemptive offer, an offer you can accept without question, without quibble, without negotiation. You understand?”
“I think I do.”
“Good. You noticed, I think, the painting on the wall behind me. The Holbein.”
“That’s an actual Hans Holbein?”
“Actual? Yes, of course. I do not own reproductions. What do you think of it?”
“I don’t have the right words.”
“Say the first words that come to mind.”
“Startling. Astonishing. Alive. Unnerving.”
Jykynstyl studied him for a long minute before speaking again. “Let me tell you two things. First, these words that you claim are not the right words come closer to the truth than the bullshit of the professional art critics. Second, these are the same words that came to my mind when I saw your portrait of Piggert, the murderer. The very same words. I looked into the eyes of your Peter Piggert and I could feel him in the room with me. Startling. Astonishing. Alive. Unnerving. All these things that you say about the Holbein portrait. For the Holbein I paid a little over eight million dollars. The amount is a secret, but I tell you anyway. Eight million, one hundred fifty thousand dollars—for one golden daffodil. One day, perhaps, I will sell it for three times that much. So now I pay one hundred thousand each for a few David Gurney daffodils, and one day, perhaps, I will sell them for ten times that. Who can say? You will toast this future with me, please? A toast—that we may both get from the transaction the satisfaction that we wish?”
Jykynstyl seemed to sense Gurney’s skepticism. “It only seems like a lot of money because you aren’t yet accustomed to it. It’s not because your work isn’t worth it. Remember that. You are being re- warded for your extraordinary insight and your ability to convey that insight—not unlike Hans Holbein. You are a detective not only of the criminal mind but of human nature. Why should you not be paid appropriately?”
Jykynstyl raised his glass of Latour. Gurney followed the gesture uncertainly with his Montrachet.
“To your insight and your work, to our business arrangement, and to you yourself, Detective David Gurney.”
“And to you, Mr. Jykynstyl.”
They drank. The experience surprised Gurney pleasantly. Although he was far from being a connoisseur, he thought the Montrachet was the best wine he’d ever tasted—and one of the few in his memory that ignited an instant desire for a second glass. As he finished the first, the young woman who had brought him up in the elevator appeared at his side with an odd glimmer in her eyes to provide the desired refill.
For the next few minutes, the two men ate in silence. The cold bass was wonderful, and the Montrachet only seemed to make it more so. When Sonya had broached the subject of Jykynstyl’s interest two days earlier, Gurney’s mind had wandered briefly into fantasies of what the money could buy, geographical fantasies that carried him to the northwest coast—to Seattle and Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands in the summer sun, blue sky and blue water, the Olympic Mountains on the horizon. Now that image returned, seemingly fueled by the firming up of the financial promise of the Mug Shot Art project—fueled also by the second, even more delightful, glass of Montrachet.
Jykynstyl was speaking again, lauding Gurney’s perception, his psychological subtlety, his eye for detail. But it was the rhythm of the words that captivated Gurney’s attention now, more than their meaning, the rhythm lifting him, rocking him gently. Now the young women were smiling serenely and clearing the table, and Jykynstyl was describing exotic desserts. Something creamy with rosemary and cardamom. Something silky with saffron, thyme, and cinnamon. It made Gurney smile to imagine the man’s strangely complex accent as though it were itself a dish made with seasonings not normally combined.
He felt a thrilling, and wholly uncharacteristic, rush of freedom, optimism, and pride in his accomplishments. It was the way he had always wanted to feel—full of clarity and strength. The feeling blended into the glorious blues of water and sky, a boat racing forward in full white sail on the wings of a breeze that would never die.