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White River Burning: A Dave Gurney Novel


White River Burning: A Dave Gurney Novel

I confess that I have read only one prior novel in John Verdon’s series featuring retired NYPD detective Dave Gurney. It was PETER PAN MUST DIE, and featured Gurney matching wits with a serial killer who has adopted the moniker of Peter Pan. It was a good read, but got lost in the shuffle as I read a myriad of books each year in the mystery/thriller genre.

WHITE RIVER BURNING is a horse of a different color that is sure to stand out from the pack as it is embroiled in highly combustible issues that very well could be ripped from the headlines of any American newspaper. Racial tensions, police brutality and an alleged cover-up are just a few of the subjects we as Americans are faced with, seemingly on a daily basis. For the purpose of this book, Verdon has set the action in the upstate New York town of White River.

The geography of upstate New York falls into one of two categories. First, and more popular, are regions like the Hudson Valley and the Adirondacks --- specifically Lake Placid --- that are majestic and a pleasure to visit. The second, less publicized type are areas decimated by lack of work, closed warehouses and factories lost to increasing foreign competition, small businesses struggling to stay afloat, high levels of unemployment, and a rising crime rate mostly from the widespread amount of illegal drug use amidst the current heroin and opioid epidemics.

"I am impressed by the risks John Verdon has taken with WHITE RIVER BURNING. He boldly highlights the issues from each side, and is able to get the message across that sometimes things are not what they appear to be on the surface."

White River, NY, falls into the latter category. Throw in racial tensions, and you have a powder keg of frustration and hate that is just waiting for someone to light a match to. This all comes to a head on the anniversary of a police shooting in which a white officer killed an unarmed black man. Many felt that the shooting was unnecessary and that the victim was set up and later killed off in custody, though the police claim he overdosed while in their keep. Now, on this infamous anniversary, tensions explode when a white officer, John Steele, is killed by a sniper's bullet. Guilt is thrown in the direction of a group called the Black Defense Alliance. Their leaders, Marcel Jordan and Virgil Tooker, were seen leaving the park shortly after the officer was slain.

Gurney's expertise is required because of his investigative skills acquired under extremely tense circumstances while with the NYPD. However, it takes a good deal of coaxing to assure his involvement as his wife, Madeleine, does not want him leaving their nice farm for the dangerous streets of White River. She also does not trust District Attorney Sheridan Kline, who reached out to Gurney for assistance. Currently, Kline makes up one-third of the trio of talking heads representing White River, along with Mayor Dwayne Shucker and the highly untrustworthy police chief, Dell Beckert.

Gurney reluctantly agrees only because he sees an opportunity to make a difference and because Steele's widow, Kim, drives to his farm to make a personal plea. He feels there might be something else going on here and asks for a second private meeting with her. It's at this get-together that she admits her husband may have been silenced for possibly looking into corruption within his own department.

Things take a particularly violent turn when the slain bodies of two black men are found hanging in the White River Park playground, the soles of their feet branded with the letters “KRS.” Someone is sending a message, and it may not be as straightforward as mere black vs. white or police vs. citizens. Gurney is a shrewd man whose reputation has been built on figuring out puzzles that bewildered his colleagues back in the day. As he begins to dig and look into different areas of the White River government and law enforcement divisions, he finds several loose strings that all hold different secrets when he pulls a little on them. This situation could get away from him quickly, and he may have to watch his own back before the open-ended assignment is done and turns deadly on him.

I am impressed by the risks John Verdon has taken with WHITE RIVER BURNING. He boldly highlights the issues from each side, and is able to get the message across that sometimes things are not what they appear to be on the surface. Readers also get to digest life in dead-end, depressing upstate New York towns that will do whatever it takes to protect the secrets that tenuously hold together what remains of their society. Don’t miss this timely and sobering read.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 21, 2018

White River Burning: A Dave Gurney Novel
by John Verdon

  • Publication Date: July 3, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint
  • ISBN-10: 1640090630
  • ISBN-13: 9781640090637