Wolf Lake (David Gurney #5), by John Verdon

EIght stars

John Verdon is back for another well-grounded and deeply psychological thriller that will keep readers up well into the night, gripping pillow and covers alike. Tired and ready for a break, former NYPD Detective David Gurney and his wife, Madeleine, are preparing to head out for some solitude in snowy, rural Vermont. Days before they are to leave, they receive a somewhat unwanted visitor, Jane Hammond, who seeks Gurney’s help to clear her brother’s name. Dr. Robert Hammond is a hypnotherapist whose name has been associated with a number of dramatic suicides over the past few months, now the latest fodder for media outlets and a number of police departments throughout the country. These suicide victims sought the assistance of Dr. Hammond to stop smoking, but soon after their intense session, each complained of severe nightmares, identical in nature. These nightmares proved so troubling that the men were found with their wrists slit, soon thereafter. Each encounter took place at an exclusive lodge off Wolf Lake, where Hammond had been living while under contract with the lodge. Hesitantly, David and Madeleine agree to visit Wolf Lake on their way up to Vermont, if only to learn a little more and perhaps meet with Dr. Hammond. When they arrive, the Gurneys are met by some of the local unsavoury folk, who add a little spook to the local legends and keep them on their toes. Gurney does what he does best, turning over some rocks and asking poignant questions, but succeeds in irritating the State police, who want him to resume his retired status and leave the policing to those with active credentials. The deeper Gurney digs, the more the mysteries pile up, as all the victims have a connection from their youth at a nearby camp for boys. Additionally, Madeleine has some of her own revelations about Wolf Lake from her past, things that stun Gurney. Could Dr. Hammond actually have implanted these suicidal thoughts into the minds of his patients, as well as vivid nightmares? Is there legal precedent to try someone who offered hypnotic suggestion of an act and is such a suggestion akin to accessory to murder? Gurney is certain there is something more going on and that Dr. Hammond is in someone’s crosshairs. Like the wolf, this individual is prepared to stalk its prey in the shadows, pouncing only when least expected. Verdon offers up another stellar piece of writing that is nothing short of brilliant in its execution. 

Verdon has created yet another winner with this novel that pulls David Gurney away from retired life and into the thick of things. While no one could know what he had in mind, the expectations were surely high as his past work proved amazing. Verdon is able to use a strong protagonist in Gurney, whose style is neither brash nor neutral, while still offering new and tantalising layers to lure the reader a little deeper. Some of the revelations, as they relate to Madeleine keep the reader stunned while also demanding more information. The intricate plot is held together by significant backstories on key characters, as well as constant action that forces the reader outside their comfort zone. Verdon knows no limits with his narrative abilities, as he pulls the unsuspecting reader into the story and then refuses to let them out. Once hooked, the reader must learn more and turns to Gurney to ask the necessary questions at just the right moment. Just when the reader might think that there is nothing else Verdon could do with Gurney, more comes to the surface, heightening the demand for ‘just one more book’. How Gurney has Jessica Fletcher Syndrome, always in the vicinity of a crime that begs his attention, surely baffles all but the mastermind, John Verdon. As always, yet another wonderful piece of work that will keep bookclubs and water coolers buzzing for the foreseeable future.

Kudos, Mr. Verdon for this brilliant work. I could not stop myself from plunging deep into the story, your characters, and the nuanced traps you lay for the unsuspecting reader throughout.