by John Verdon
I like a good mystery and the description on the inside of the dust jacket for Think of a Numb3r hooked me immediately.
“Arriving in the mail over a period of weeks are taunting letters that end with a simple declaration: “Think of any number . . . picture it . . . now see how well I know your secrets.” Amazingly, those who comply find that the letter writer has predicted their random choices exactly.”
This looked like a murder mystery right up my alley, and truthfully, it was. The main character is former NYPD star detective Dave Gurney. He is everything you hope a real-life detective would be; logical, thorough, relentless. The settings are also excellent. I’ve never been to upstate New York, but if the landscape is half as picturesque as the descriptions in this novel, I’ll have to make it there at some point to visit the Catskills. The dialog is well written and descriptive without being too long-winded or repetitive. I really only have one complaint about the whole novel (though it is a big one). Think of a Numb3r is supposed to be centered around a series of messages that make supposedly impossible predictions and, impossible murders that make no sense based on the evidence. However, every single time one of these events occurs I could think of, at least, one way it could be done. I don’t know, maybe I spend too much time thinking in the counter-intuitive world of 5GW. Maybe I’m just that good. In either case it made a good part of the book kind of frustrating, though if you didn’t happen to have my devious mind, the book was probably that much more compelling.
Anyway, for a good portion of the book I was kind of disgusted with the, supposedly, ace investigator who, supposedly, had a bullshit meter so finely tuned he could track down some of the worst serial killers in New York history, yet was baffled by evidence he admitted on several occasions was evidence that was provided by the killer, not left behind unintentionally. On the other hand, once Gurney and I were on the same page as far as the how of the case, the story really started to rip along toward a pretty intense ending (though I saw that coming too).
Think of a Numb3r was a really good read and I really like the Dave Gurney character. Ace investigator he may be, he has flaws, big flaws. Many characters out there are too perfect. Their insight is a little too great. They don’t get rattled when they should. Their lives are too perfect or have superficial imperfections that aren’t really that great of a obstical except that the characters tend to dwell upon them. In other words they don’t feel like real people and that is what I, as a reader (and real-life person myself), identify with. Gurney is a great character (as is his wife) and I really look forward to more of his adventures in the future, or since he is nominally retired from his life as a detective, adventures from his past. I’ll be looking for them to appear on the bookshelf.
I have been a fan of Jack McDevitt’s books for a long time (and the eye-catching covers of his books by artist John Harris). I think the main reason would be that while Mr. McDevitt’s books would largely be described as Science Fiction, they are first and foremost stories. In other words, though the novels include superluminal starships, A.I.’s, and a host of other futuristic concepts, those elements that would define it as Science Fiction serve only as the setting for the story, not the story itself.
Echo is a great example. The novel is essentially a treasure hunt mystery with an interplanetary scale, sparked by a stone tablet carved with strange, unidentifiable symbols once owned by an explorer who spent his life unsuccessfully searching for non-human intelligent life among the stars. What starts out as a curiosity soon becomes deadly serious. In the tradition of Doyle, antiquities dealer Alex Benedict is the Sherlock Holmes of the story with his friend / assistant / interstellar pilot Chase Kolpath serving in the role of Watson as the narrator for the events of the book.
I really enjoyed Echo. The story itself is fairly typical of other Alex Benedict novels but it still contains that undefinable element that makes the reader eager to turn the pages that McDevitt always seems to have in spades. Lately, some of the books on my shelf have been uninteresting, stale, or personally disagreeable and have left me unmotivated to read (those who know me well would find that hard to believe but it is nonetheless true). Echo is just the sort of story I needed to re-motivate me to dive into the next novel or text in the pile.