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Publisher's Summary

An extraordinary fiction debut, Think of a Number is an exquisitely plotted novel of suspense that grows relentlessly darker and more frightening as its pace accelerates, forcing its deeply troubled characters to moments of startling self-revelation.

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 choice exactly.

For Dave Gurney, just retired as the NYPD’s top homicide investigator and forging a new life with his wife, Madeleine, in upstate New York, the letters are oddities that begin as a diverting puzzle but quickly ignite a massive serial murder investigation.

What police are confronted with is a completely baffling killer, one who is fond of rhymes filled with threats and warnings, whose attention to detail is unprecedented, and who has an uncanny knack for disappearing into thin air. Even more disturbing, the scale of his ambition seems to widen as events unfold.

Brought in as an investigative consultant, Dave Gurney soon accomplishes deductive breakthroughs that leave local police in awe. Yet, even as he matches wits with his seemingly clairvoyant opponent, Gurney’s tragedy-marred past rises up to haunt him, his marriage approaches a dangerous precipice, and finally, a dark, cold fear builds that he’s met an adversary who can’t be stopped.

In the end, fighting to keep his bearings amid a whirlwind of menace and destruction, Gurney sees the truth of what he’s become – what we all become when guilty memories fester – and how his wife Madeleine’s clear-eyed advice may be the only answer that makes sense.

©2005 John Verdon (P)2010 Random House

Critic Reviews

"Think of a Number is truly unputdownable. Rarely have I read a debut novel that has gripped me as this one has from the first page to the last. This book doesn’t just entertain – it engages you and draws you immediately into the lives of the characters, who are as real as real can be. John Verdon has written a flawless novel about flawed people and he’s written it beautifully. I hope we see a lot more of John Verdon and his smart protagonist, Dave Gurney, in years to come.” (Nelson DeMille)
“John Verdon’s Think of a Number is simply one of the best thrillers I’ve read in a lifetime of thriller reading -- eloquent, heart-rending, deeply suspenseful on many levels, and relentlessly intelligent. The characters live and breathe, the plot is diabolically clever and airtight, and the prose is sublime. Absolutely not to be missed! At one stroke, Verdon establishes himself as a bright star in the thriller firmament.” (John Lescroart)
"Verdon’s protagonist Dave Gurney is one for the ages, and readers everywhere will surely clamor to see this man again. Think of a Number gets full marks from me. And I think it will from you, too. Enjoy." (David Baldacci)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • John
  • tallevast, FL, United States
  • 08-01-12

Was on it's way to a Five - But it's a good Four!

I like the smart way it was written. I also love the way it was read. I read a bunch of reviews and there are two I don't understand. One is the person claiming it was too much of psychology and not enough thriller. Maybe there is a good horror book out there for them with people running around stabbing people. I like books that make me think, and this one did. The other one was about the narrator. I was really worried until I started listening. I loved him. A lot more then I like Scott Brick. Scott is probably the only reason I hesitate to get the second book on Audio and not read it. George Newbern had a great voice. Maybe his charachters didn't have too much of a different pitch or accent - But I can work that out in my head. It's better then an over dramatic reading any day. His reading was easy to listen to. John Verdon is either super smart or has great researchers. The only complaint I have is about the 658 number. I'm not giving anything away. The explanation was plausible - But I think the average reader woud find it easier to believe if the number was one to a hundred. This is my first Verdon book, and It is the first book in awhile I am glad I got. Hope that's helpful.

27 of 27 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Kelley
  • Wilmington, NC, United States
  • 08-22-10

Fresh and Frightening!

If you like Connelly and Coben, you'll love John Verdon. This book is intelligently written, and excitement builds and builds to a very frightening ending! The main character and his relationships develop beautifully over the course of the book. I have been looking for a new author in this genre since my old favorite authors just can't keep up with my audio book habit! It is also my understanding that Mr. Verdon is planning more books with retired NYPD detective David Gurney as the main character. I do not recommend the abridged version... unless you regularly prefer abridged novels.

24 of 24 people found this review helpful

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  • Ted
  • Lancaster, PA, United States
  • 03-02-14

Terrific: Mystery, Characters, Plot!

I don't need 15 words to say, "Yikes!", "Wow!" or "Wheeee!" Here's the deal. This is the first Dave Guerney novel from John Verdon. It is so gooood I'm afraid to buy the next. Did Verdon save up a lifetime of deviously complex ideas and empty his tank into "Think Of A Number"? Should I even get "Shut Your Eyes Tight"? AAARGH! This is what puzzle psychological murder mysteries should be. "Think Of A Number" ought'a be Webster's definition for the genre.

If you and I share any taste in thriller detective mysteries (see my reviews - I'm tough!) then this… THIS IS A MUST READ, or um… HEAR!

Quibbles… George Newbern's not up to the complexity of these characters and has some trouble differentiating their voices. He's good enough. Oh… and it seems to start slowly… Careful, clues… clues… clues.. here to the process. Enjoy the depth…

20 of 20 people found this review helpful

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  • Loyola
  • CAMDENTON, MO, United States
  • 10-08-10


This was the most compelling "thriller" type of audiobook that I've enjoyed in a long while. I couldn't wait to listen further to find out what happens in the story. The narrator was excellent.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Matt
  • Marlborough, NH, United States
  • 12-29-10

Where would mysteries be without retired cops?

I downloaded this book after I'd already read it, so I can't comment on the narration.

This is an excellent mystery/police procedural/thriller/whodunit. A little of each, in just the right proportions. Clever plot twists, revolving selection of whodunit options - I was way off base pretty much along the way. Worth the time.

12 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Whose smarter - cop or killer?

This one of those books that will make you get out of your's hard to write a mystery novel that stands out in terms of clever combinations of the criminal and the detective mind. I found the development of the story very entertaining and captivating.

it starts with a letter that Mark Mellery to think of a number between 1 and 1000...then when he opens the second envelope in the letter, the number he thought of is written on it. From there the killer seemingly leaves a mountain of clues but the police can't seem to make any headway on what all the clues mean. On receipt of the letter and additional poems, Mellery contacts his acquaintance from school, the recently retired detective Dave Gurney. Mellery eventually is murdered and Gurney can't help but take up the challenge of a killer who is clearly taunting the police. The killer continues to use the mail, number tricks and poems to strike fear in the victims before they are murdered...Gurney and the police are always several steps behind until Gurney's deductive skills and plain perserverance provide him the break he needs.

The killer is very clever and is well matched with is life and death when they finally meet.

I read a fair amount of these murder mysteries and found this to be one of the most entertaining I've ever read.

19 of 20 people found this review helpful

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Kept my interest

This book had some interesting twists and turns and I looked forward to getting back to it. What more can you ask for?

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Interesting story

I also have the hardcover version of this book. Sometimes I'd read. Sometimes I'd listen. Sometimes I'd do both. It was a good book to relax with on the deck. Truthfully, I found it the climax a little predictable, however the ride there was anything but. A good story and a terrific debut novel for John. I've suggested the book to others.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Do you have any series of paper books that you love so much, you're a little afraid to try the audible version, afraid they're going to screw it up somehow? This was one of mine. I love the three Dave Guerney books so much I held off listening to this first one. I wasn't familiar with the narrator, and who knows what could have happened....

This is a magnificent series. After reading this book for the first time -- paper version -- I actually emailed author John Verdon, gushing all over the place, telling him how much I loved the book. He responded with great kindness. I've done that very rarely, but it's always nice to know there's a real human there, plotting, writing, working to give us the great reading material we 'constant readers' -- so to speak -- enjoy so much.

Anyway, I needn't have worried -- this book is great. It has something for everyone -- unique and interesting characters, a great location -- Verdon makes you SEE the beauty of the snowy landscape -- plenty of curious murders plus a surprise ending, all wrapped up in a real puzzle, sure to please the who-dun-it lovers.

Personally, I mostly enjoy the character of Dave Guerney, a retired (not so very retired at all) detective who gets back into the game when a long-ago friend makes an appearance and begs for help. I have a love-hate thing with the character of Madeline, Guerney's wife. In subsequent books, I think of her much like "Helen", the eternal, troubled, difficult, love of Detective Inspector Lynley, in that I have to wonder if this woman is really worth all the angst she causes. Madeline is like that too -- more in the next book than this one. But why, oh why, do women marry police detectives, then spend the rest of their lives trying to get him to do something else?

What's so good about John Verdon's writing are all the little extras he throws in, wry observations, clever analogies.... and in this book, one of the characters gives a pop-psychology class, and Verdon quotes a significant part of the lecture. I blush to admit that a little piece of wisdom in that "class" hit me exactly when I needed to hear it. No, I don't run my life by the wisdom found in books of detective fiction, but the scope of Verdon's writing -- and apparently his knowledge -- is amazing, and delightful to come across.

The narrator was just fine -- if there was any minute downside to this book, it's that there were any number of places where -- apparently -- words, or a complete sentence -- had to be read over again, so it's a little jarring when that happens. You can hear the disjuncture -- but it's not enough to detract from the book itself.

I'm now looking forward to the next two books on Audible -- no more fear!

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Brilliant! One of the best murder mysteries ever.

I had never heard of Mr. Verdon before, but I am thrilled to have just finished this book, knowing that there are four more in the series so far. George Newbern does an excellent job here as well. The protagonist, Dave Gurney, is a former NYPD homicide cop, now retired but working free-lance and still absolutely consumed by it, to his wife's profound dismay. He is a wounded hero, as many of these guys are, and you see him repeatedly searching for the answer to his own trauma. His wife, Madelyn, BTW, knows the entire cycle, but Dave just cannot hear her when she tries to tell him what he is doing with his life. His quarry in this book is a serial murderer. These are books which I frequently avoid, but you can tell immediately that this is one hell of a writer, who grabs you with his style, his wit and the fascinating plot, so that you are quickly hooked. He is very serious, quite a contrast to, for example, the gentle and sweet Walt Longmire, and he gets so wrapped up in his cases that he can think of nothing else. We meet the bad guy about halfway through the book. He is very weird, a psychotic or a psychopath or whatever, a hideously damaged individual who is trying desperately to recover from his own childhood trauma. If this sounds depressing, I didn't find it so, although I admit that I have a high tolerance for this sort of thing, provided that it is done with style, wit and a great plot. The plot is much too complicated for me to give you any idea of it, but reading the blurb and listening to the sample will give you a very minor taste of what's in store. There are dozens of law enforcers involved. The setting is upstate New York, plus other locations around New England. The time of year is winter, and it is beautifully described by Mr. Verdon. I have never been nostalgic about snow, having grown up in the MidWest and living in Ann Arbor before I moved to the SF Bay Area. Several of the scenes describe beauty of such breathtaking scope that the weather almost becomes a character in the book, much as NYC often is the primary focus of many writers who live there, like Lawrence Block. Happily, Mr. Verdon can't be compared to any other author in this genre, and I am thrilled to have discovered him. (Obviously, many many other readers have discovered him well before I did.) You are in for a terrific time here. There is a little bit too much gore in places, and a bit too much law enforcement minutiae, but the book is so over-powering that those are nits that don't deserve to be picked. Read up!

6 of 6 people found this review helpful