Dave Gruley retired from the New York City police department having solved more serial killings than any other detective in the history of the department. Living quietly in upstate New York with his wife, Madeleine, he is surprised when he is contacted by Mark Mellory, a classmate in college whom he only vaguely remembers. Mellory, on the other hand, is passing their relationship off as very close and it is on this false premise that he contacts Gruley for help when he receives a number of increasingly frightening letters.
Mellory believes he is being blackmailed but the method is sinister, undermining Mellory’s sense that he is in control of his life.
“Do you believe in fate?….If someone told you to think of a number, I know what number you’d think of. You don’t believe me? I’ll prove it to you. Think of any number up to a thousand – the first number that comes to your mind. Picture it. Now see how well I know your secrets. Open the little envelope.” (page 21).
Mellory plays the game. The first number he thinks of is 658. Then he opens the small envelope. “Does it shock you that I knew that you would pick 658? Who knows you that well?” (page 22). Mellory is instructed to send cash or personal check in the amount of $289.87 to a post office box in Connecticut. The check is to be made out to X. Arybdis.
Mellory complies but the messages continue and he is certain it is someone who knew him in the past, someone who knows he did something terrible. Mellory is a self-help guru, the author of successful books and the retreat master for groups who gather at the estate that is his base. But Mellory has a past upon which he based his career. He was a drinker, a drinker who was plunged into blackouts; he remembers nothing of what he might have done during those periods. Did he kill someone? Is he a murderer?
And then Mellory is murdered. The manner of death is clear; the method of death, like everything else at the end of Mellory’s life, is complicated. Gruley is fully involved now that he is in the middle, again, of a search for a serial killer.
THINK OF A NUMB3R is the first book written by John Verdon. With one hiccup, the first 2/3’s of the book are different and engaging. The last section is very much like other serial killer fiction. This is not to say that they book isn’t enjoyable; it really is a page turner. Dave Gruley is a welcome addition to the mystery genre and I hope Verdon continues to bring Dave Gruley, and Madeleine, to the bookstores and libraries near me.