Archer Mayor is the author of the Joe Gunther
novels - a series of excellent police procedural
mysteries set in present-day Brattleboro, VT
in the U.S. Gunther, a police detective in his late forties, works in the Brattleboro PD
at the outset of the series. He is a comfortable bachelor and Vermont
native, who relishes
the quiet and slower pace of his small city. Through the series, Joe is faced with threats to his tranquility
and mundane: the day-to-day police life of a town with rich and poor, with corporate interests
and citizen's groups, with "city folk
" and "country folk
" mixed together.
In its heyday, Brattleboro was a railroad town. Along with stops such as White River Junction to the south, and St. Johnsbury to the north, it sat astride the rail links connecting Canada's eastern cities and ports with the New York-Washington, D.C. corridor. As a railroad town, industry grew up, populations followed, and so forth. Now, however, the railroad is almost gone - to be replaced by the Interstate (I-91) which produces an even larger 'transient' population and its associated cash flow, while producing less capital investment to support the town.
The urban sprawl is pushing north from Boston; younger folk with few options are holding up walls in town, yuppies are invading, and the locals are bristling. In the middle of Vermont's slow change into modernity sits Joe's home town, the first sizeable population north of the Massachusetts border.
The town is trying to attract high-tech businesses, while the steady flow of truckers and 'dogs brings a stream of drifters, drugs, prostitution, gambling and more wafting through the area. Some local companies are in dire straits, and some people are desperate, while others reap the rewards of the evening traffic - meaning there is ample motive for arson, corruption, murder, adultery, sin, shame and more...the staple of the policeman.
This is the background against which we meet Joe Gunther, and watch him work, love, suffer, triumph, teach, learn and live.
The series consists of the following books, and they need not be read in order (although it will increase the fun!):
- Open Season
- Scent of Evil
- The Skeleton's Knee
- Fruits of the Poisonous Tree
- The Dark Root
- The Ragman's Memory
- Bellows Falls
- The Disposable Man
- Occam's Razor
- The Marble Mask
- Tucker Peak
- The Sniper's Wife
- The Surrogate Thief
- St. Albans Fire
- The Second Mouse
Although the level of 'everyday' in the plots varies from book to book, it doesn't follow the unfortunate trend of some authors whose plotlines begin to balloon into fantasy as the series goes on. Those writers are quintessential creatures of the market; in order to continue, they must produce a 'bigger' book each time. Mayor writes consistent, work-a-day stories about Joe and his colleagues. While some of the books do trespass towards the fantastic (no bright lights and aliens, don't worry) the series always returns to the incredibly rich body of storytelling that are the series' hallmark.
There is no better source for stories about crime and life than a middle-sized town. There is no need to sensationalize the tales, as in a small town, where the reader begins to doubt this town exists; however, the setting is closed enough that no interpersonal or inter-event connection pushes us hard enough to suspend disbelief that we recoil. Brattleboro is all that and more. Joe is a down-to-earth guy; one who shakes and throws up sometimes when he is (infrequently) shot at; one who is old enough and quiet enough that his own past (set in the same area) is always available to supply diverting or relevant threads in slow moments.
Mayor's writing does improve noticeably as he becomes more comfortable with his characters. This is most evident in the behavior and dialogue of the women, early in the series; however, as we gain history with and of them, they 'flesh out' to provide and drive most of the more gripping plotlines.
If you're looking for a comfortable, consistent and gripping read, look no further than Archer Mayor. Best of all, despite his prolific output, the books' quality has been unflagging...which means you'll suddenly have a bunch of things to read.