Dave’s got a new puzzle

 <span class="cutline_leadin">Peter Pan Must Die.</span> John Verdon. Crown. 448 pages. $25.
Peter Pan Must Die. John Verdon. Crown. 448 pages. $25.

John Verdon’s skillful melding of the puzzle mystery, the police procedural and the psychological thriller brings a unique spin to his series about retired NYPD homicide Detective Dave Gurney.

Peter Pan Must Die again presents Dave with a seemingly insurmountable problem — a murder that on the surface was impossible to perform. Verdon expertly takes the novel through a labyrinth of twists that are outlandish but believable.

Former colleague Jack Hardwick asks Dave to help overturn the murder conviction of Kay Spalter, who is in prison for shooting her wealthy husband at his mother’s funeral. Dave doesn’t particularly like Jack, but feels responsible because Jack lost his job with the state police after helping Dave with a case.

Dave’s investigation indicates the details of the murder were fabricated, and it leads him to several people who had a grudge against the victim, who also was a gubernatorial candidate running on an anti-organized crime platform.

Despite the strong storyline, the dynamics between Dave and his wife Madeleine continue to be the center of Verdon’s series. Madeleine wants Dave to be content living on the farm they bought near the Catskills in upstate New York. She takes delight in building a chicken coop and enjoying the scenery while Dave, who took early retirement at 48, is restless. Where she sees a tranquil landscape, he sees the potential for violence. She worries that Dave’s involvement in the occasional case belies a deeper psychological unease.

The denouement in Peter Pan Must Die is one of the most unusual in crime fiction, and yet it’s perfectly logical. Verdon’s cleverness shines again.

Oline H. Cogdill reviewed this book for The Associated Press.

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