Peter Pan Must Die

Peter Pan Must Die by John Verdon

publication date: 2014
pages: 440
ISBN: 978-0-385-34840-9

Peter Pan Must Die is a classic murder-mystery, with detective Dave Gurney at its center. Gurney, living out his retirement in idyllic rural New York, is pulled back in to solving crimes by the case of Carl Spalter. According to the official report, Spalter, a wealthy politician, was murdered by his wife. However, Gurney notices some inconsistencies with the case, including the lead police officer sleeping with a major suspect for the crime and the fact that it was impossible for a gun to be shot at the precise moment that Spalter was killed by a gunshot.

The book fit nicely into its genre. Much like a Law & Order episode, Gurney spent the first half of the book interviewing all the involved parties, including Spalter’s cold but innocent wife, his saintly and sinister younger brother, and his “demented slut” of a daughter. The second half of the book followed Gurney as he pieced the puzzle together and steadily closed in on the true murderer. The book also involved all the predictable characters, including Jack Hardwick – the hard ass with a heart of gold; Malcolm Claret – the wizened psychiatrist with all the answers who doesn’t take shit from anybody; and Donny Angel – the Greek mobster with the slick exterior who only chats with cops at ethnic restaurants.

The author’s presentation of the mystery and pacing was generally very good and there were even some moments of heart-pounding suspense. However, that was all overshadowed by the book’s many problems. A major problem was it turned out the book was part of a series, and passages of the book were confusing and forced because I didn’t understand the back story. Had a known it was a series, I wouldn’t have picked up this book and instead would have searched for the first one. There was nothing on the cover or book jacket or anywhere else to indicate it was a series, however. Another problem was Verdon’s peppering of the story with ridiculous details about “urban” life. Like this gem:

Like many other little upstate towns that for years had lingered in a kind of Leave It to Beaver time warp of old-fashioned manners and appearances, Walnut Crossing was slowly being infiltrated – as Long Falls already had been – by the toxic culture of rap crap, gansgta clothes, and cheap heroin.

These little asides had nothing to do with the story. In fact, any evil acts in the book were perpetrated by people of European descent, with no connection to rap, “gangsta” culture, or even drugs.

Another off-putting part of the book was the chapter endings. They were often so maudlin as to be nonsensical. Here’s the last sentence of the first chapter:

If Gurney were the kind of man who believed in omens, he might have seen the shattered image [reflected in the water] as a sign of the destruction to come.

Oh please! And here’s another one of my favorites, at the end of a chapter where Gurney fails to understand how all the pieces of the crime fit together:

The dissonant chords of [his wife’s] cello piece were growing louder.

If you are someone who really likes mysteries, might as well give this book a try. However, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else.

3/6: more good than bad

Buried Under Books
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Daisy’s Book Journal

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