SHUT YOUR EYES TIGHT – John Verdon

The second book in the Dave Gurney series, after THINK OF A NUMBER, is outstanding.  As SHUT YOUR EYES TIGHT opens, it is September and Dave is thinking, again, about his decision to move to a farm in upstate New York.  As a member of the NYPD, Gurney’s reputation is unparalled and he reluctantly admits to himself that he misses the hunt and the discovery of someone who has dared to take the life of another human being.  But his wife, Madeleine, has no doubts, or at least none she is willing to articulate, that the change is for the best.  She no longer has to worry about Dave’s safety but she knows on a level she rarely investigates, that the life she wants isn’t the life her husband needs. The quiet of that September morning is marred by a phone call from  Jack Hardwick, a detective with the NYPD, who is so abrasive that he has few admirers and few who trust him. “…Gurney considered him one of the smartest, most insightful detectives he had ever worked with.”   Jack has been removed from a highly publicized, highly controversial case, the case of the “butchered bride.”  Jillian Perry has just been married to a highly publicized, highly controversial psychiatrist, Scott Ashton.  Within minutes of the ceremony, Jillian is found in a locked cottage, decapitated.  The local police have no doubt that Jillian is the victim of the gardener, Hector Lopez, but Lopez has disappeared and the police have no evidence on which to proceed.  Val Perry, Jillian’s mother and the wife of the highest paid neurosurgeon in the world, wants someone to find Lopez and bring him to justice, even if the justice is of the vigilante order rather than trial by jury.  Val Perry has an endless amount of money available to pay for whatever means leads to her desired end.  Hardwick begs Gurney to talk to Val, to give the case his unique perspective. Although retired, Gurney teaches a seminar at the State Police Academy and this setting allows the author to realistically expound, through Gurney,  on interrogation and the discovery of truth.  “It’s all about maneuvering the target into ‘discovering’ the facts about you that you want him to believe…It’s about making him want to believe you…There’s tremendous believability to facts a person thinks he’s discovered…That’s what I call the Eureka fallacy.  It’s that peculiar trick of the mind that gives total credibility to what you think you’ve discovered on your own.”  SHUT YOUR EYES TIGHT is a murder mystery, a thriller, and a psychological examination of motives and actions.  Verdon creates a psychiatrist as a principle character and the tone of the book is set.  It is enthralling. Scott Ashton made his reputation as a world-class leader in psychiatry with the publication of his book The Empathy Trap.  Most people view empathy, the ability to identify with and understand another person’s feelings, emotions, and experiences, as a positive character trait.  Scott Ashton has a different take on the quality.  He believes that empathy is the result of a problem with boundaries, that if people care about each other it is because they cannot perceive the difference between “self” and “other”.  Scott’s book  sets out the theory that “the normal human being’s boundary is imperfect in a way that the sociopath’s is perfect.  The sociopath never confuses himself and his needs with anyone else’s and therefore has no feelings related to the welfare of others.” When Verdon puts the eureka factor together with the empathy trap and throws in some of the most seriously damaged people one can imagine, he creates a story that is frightening in its possibilities.  He also creates a book that is impossible to put down. SHUT YOUR EYES TIGHT includes the sexual abuse of children, gore, and characters who are far from possible to relate to.  But it is the writing that makes this book far more than the sum of its parts.  Verdon tells a story that could be titillating and horrifying.  Instead, the tale is told clinically and dispassionately, a psychologist/psychiatrist recording facts, not feelings, not emotions. The book will not be to everyone’s taste but… for anyone who enjoys or is fascinated by the workings of the mind and the ability to hide evil, for lack of a better word, in plain sight, SHUT YOUR EYES TIGHT should make it into the TBR pile very near the top. The book is not a quick read because Verdon sets out plenty of clues and a few red herrings yet despite the information, it is necessary to pay attention, to think about the characters as their personalities and failings are revealed.  THINK OF A NUMB3R is another must read and, although  Verdon makes frequent reference to the “Mellory case”, he doesn’t reveal anything to spoil the first book and it is not necessary to have read the first book to appreciate the second.

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