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Wolf Lake


Wolf Lake

Why isn’t John Verdon huge? Like household name huge? The Dave Gurney series has been on my must-read list from THINK OF A NUMBER, Verdon’s debut novel, and he has continued to impress ever since. His books in substance, if not in style, remind me of G. K Chesterton’s Father Brown stories and Jacques Futrelle’s underappreciated The Thinking Machine offerings.

Verdon gives Gurney, his retired NYPD homicide detective, a background that is not so much a fish out of water as it is a bear in too small a cage. Gurney and his fascinating, enigmatic wife, Madeleine, live in upstate New York, on a rural plot of land more suited to her than him. The trade-off is that a case that is occasionally somewhat off of law enforcement radar comes his way, and he pursues it. The cases are, shall we say, unusual, ones in which seemingly random incidents have a puzzling nexus. Gurney, drawn to anything that causes him to think outside the box, puzzles it out over the course of a well-written and strongly plotted book.

"This is a storytelling romp. Verdon has a very distinctive style, one that is slightly offbeat without being off-putting.... [I]f you love mysteries, you owe it to yourself to read WOLF LAKE."

Verdon’s latest offering is WOLF LAKE; it’s more of the same, which means it’s wonderful. It begins with Gurney observing and attempting to solve a small puzzle --- one involving a porcupine --- when he is recruited to investigate a series of seemingly unrelated deaths. A number of people apparently unknown to each other, residing in different parts of the nation, have committed suicide in the same manner after reporting similar nightmares. The only thing that any of them had in common is that they all consulted with a hypnotherapist named Richard Hammond shortly before their deaths. A connection to Hammond was slowly but steadily made, and a New York State police investigator named Gilbert Fenton has made a rush to judgment in the media, strongly inferring that Hammond was somehow responsible for the deaths, linked by similarity and circumstance. 

It is Hammond’s sister who ultimately retains Gurney. Part-enabler, part-protector, she is emotionally fragile in her own right and horribly upset over what she feels are the unjust accusations leveled against her immensely talented brother. Hammond is employed by an upscale resort and retreat on Wolf Lake, where access to his treatment is considered an attraction, but in between appearances he is semi-reclusive. Gurney, in spite of himself, is intrigued. His entry into the case is facilitated by his wife, who even changes vacation plans so he can pursue his investigation.

The list of people pleased with Gurney’s involvement in the matter is a short one. The local police are less than thrilled with his questioning of their conclusions, but they aren’t the only ones. For some reason, an all-but-invisible segment of the federal government would prefer Gurney to investigate other matters and leave this one to the big boys. Then, of course, there is the real killer, who is displeased with Gurney’s attention. Someone decides that it would be better if he was diverted, and the easiest way to do that is to focus on his wife. Against a backdrop of the beauty and hazards of nature and weather, Gurney edges closer to discovering the truth, even as each step brings danger closer to what he holds most dear.

This is a storytelling romp. Verdon has a very distinctive style, one that is slightly offbeat without being off-putting. He occasionally draws a character a bit overbroad to make a political or social point, but he is hardly alone in that these days. Verdon is an author deserving of your time and attention; if you love mysteries, you owe it to yourself to read WOLF LAKE.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 22, 2016

Wolf Lake
by John Verdon

  • Publication Date: July 12, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 375 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint
  • ISBN-10: 161902733X
  • ISBN-13: 9781619027336