Shut Your Eyes Tight
By John Verdon
Crown, 509 pp, $24
Ever since Thomas Harris created Hannibal Lecter and James Patterson devised the twisted psychokillers who populate the Alex Cross novels, there’s been something of a drive in thriller lit to top even the worst, most grusome stuff imaginable. It’s the Pulp Fiction Syndrome in trash lit -- and although Shut Your Eyes Tight is hardly the worst of the recent offerings, I was only about a third of the way through the book when I took out my notepad and wrote:
“This is some sick fucking shit.”
Yep: Ritual machete decapitations (including the bride at a society wedding). Headless body in a rich man’s freezer (below a hundred chickens and some broccoli). Doll equivalent of a horse’s head in a bed. Sexual sadists taking advantage of kids at a reform school for juvie sex offenders.
Oh, and our hero gets a roofie in his drink and gets blackmailed by a fake art patron with no real vowels in his name over (possible) unconsious underage sex. And the Sicilian mob is involved. And an obscure-Elizabethan-literary-reference murderer who cites the works of Thomas (why should this not surpise me) Kyd.
Naturally, Dave Gurney, the reluctant former homicide detective caught in the middle of all of this, is having tortured relationship problems. It’s sort of a bloody Green Acres: His wife wants to live a nice peaceful life in the country, and he can’t stop himself from getting dragged into dangerous and horrifying crime investigations. In fact, for all the gore, the scenes with the wife are some of the most painful stuff in the book.
In this case, Gurney is called to help solve the wedding-day homicide, which the husband (a truly weird psychiatrist) wants to blame on the household help, in this case a young man who -- according to the police -- might have been having an affair with the late lamented, or might have been mad at her husband, or might just be a crazed killer who conveniently split town and can’t be found. But the facts don’t quite add up -- and Gurney has to piss off not only all of the direct players but a crew of state cops who have bungled the preliminary investigation.
He follows the threads through a bizarre world of crooks, fashion models, child molesters, billionaires, and assorted upstate New York characters until he runs into the grisly world he retired to avoid. You can imagine how his wife feels.
Somehow, it all works as a perfectly adequate (if a bit too lenghty) beach book for the lovers of batshit psychos and the cops who chase them. It’s on my recommended list.