Book Review: Peter Pan Must Die by John Verdon

Peter Pan Must DiePeter Pan Must Die
John Verdon
Crown Publishers, July 2014
ISBN 978-0-385-34840-9

This is the fourth entry in the series featuring retired NYPD detective David Gurney who, according to New York magazine, is “the most successful homicide dick in the history of the Big Apple.” Now in his late 40’s, he and his second wife, Madeleine, live on an old farmhouse in the rural Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, leaving New York City three years earlier (“the city where they’d both been born, raised, educated, and employed”) after 25 years on the job. Dave has agreed to help out his old friend, Jack Hardwick, with whom he has a long and somewhat fraught history: Jack had had a ‘forced departure” from the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation after a difficult case they had worked on together. (Hardwick is described as having “a sharp mind and sound investigative instincts . . . concealed behind a relentless eagerness to offend.”)

This case is much more than just difficult: Hardwick is now a p.i., his first client being a woman who has been convicted of killing her husband – well, convicted of shooting him, at his mother’s funeral, following which he died during her trial, with the charges of course being changed to murder. Hardwick’s job, with Dave’s assistance, is to prove that the woman was framed and that the cop in charge of the investigation, either willfully or negligently, completely mishandled the case, including but not limited to hiding evidence and suborning perjury. Jack tells him that the case has everything: “Horror, hate, gangsters, politics, big money, big lies, and maybe just a little bit of incest.”  As the case evolves, Dave’s propensity for putting himself in life-threatening situations is tested once again.

This is a fascinating mystery, wonderfully well-written, with a unique plot.  The villain of the piece is the eponymous little elf himself, but discovering his actual corporeal identity proves a very difficult task.  The first reference to the elf comes in Part Two, appropriately headed “Peter Pan,” nearly a quarter-way into the book, with nothing more about him until even further on.  But as things proceed, the book centers on the monstrous human who bears that nickname, who appears to be a sadistic serial killer.  I was hesitant, even fearful, as I reached Part Three (ominously headed “All the Evil in the World), but that quickly changed as I soon found I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.  The author explores the question of whether “the patterns we perceive are determined by the stories we want to believe,” and states that “In the real world of crime and punishment – – as in all human endeavors – – objectivity is an illusion.  Survival itself demands that we leap to conclusions.”  And he makes a very good case.

The three prior novels in this series were all very well received, and I have no doubt that this one will be as well.  Despite its length, it is a page-turner, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2014.

One thought on “Book Review: Peter Pan Must Die by John Verdon

  1. I have not heard of this series before. I love the title and reading about the character reminds me a little of J.P. Beaumont who I loved in Jance’s books. The New York City setting made me think of Matt Scudder (Lawrence Block’s books I read ages ago). Sounds good.


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