Friday, August 25, 2006

Vermont Mysteries and Politics: Sarah Stewart Taylor, Archer Mayor, New Books

Summer is waning. The nights are crisp, and "the colder hollows" are threatened with frost. Other signs of autumn: the list of new mysteries for the season, and the endless political ads on television and, increasingly, online.

Two steady Vermont authors are bringing out next volumes in their series. Neither is likely to change anyone's world or even worldview, and they are ardently not political. But for each, there's a connection.

The first is STILL AS DEATH, third in the Sweeney St. Goerge series written by Sarah Stewart Taylor. In this artfully plotted murder mystery, Sweeney's curiosity about a missing Egyptian necklace -- part of the "funerary arts" that this detective-in-spite-of-herself specializes in -- ends up provoking violence. With a number of odd circumstances presented quickly in the prologue and first chapter, Taylor sweeps smoothly into a tight and fast-paced work that markes very clearly her movement out of "new writer" status and into the professional league. Watch for a full-length review in the Vermont Review of Books, as well as on our web site, later this week. The book release date is September 5.

We'll host a reading and signing event for this Vermont-authored mystery (set in Boston this time) on Monday September 18, at 4 p.m. Pick up the newest book, and fill in with the earlier ones too, if you're missing one.

Sarah Stewart Taylor pulled this book together while also becoming a mom and supporting her husband, state senator Matt Dunne, as he launched his campaign for lieutenant governor. Matt's a clear-voiced, capable young man, who already had a turn running Americorps for a year and a half from its Washington, DC, office, and who takes strong stands on human issues like health care. So in order to give him a chance to meet some local citizens, whether mystery fans or not, we'll follow his wife's event with a 6 p.m. dinner (no charge); let us know in advance that you'll attend so we can plan the meal, and come get acquainted with the candidate and offer him your best advice. Vermont's a small world. It's this easy to make a difference. Attend one or both events, but please do let us know you're coming.

Archer Mayor, whose long-running Joe Gunther series set in Brattleboro, Vermont, has been praised as top-notch police procedurals, also presents a new book this fall. It's called THE SECOND MOUSE -- as Mayor explained at his reading here last year, the title comes from the quote, "The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese." (I've proposed a T-shirt to accompany the book: with an image of the first mouse, crushed by the mousetrap spring, lying in a puddle of blood. Very noir. Nobody seems interested so far. Hmm.)

It's a bit early to talk about the plot just yet, as this one doesn't release until October. But Dave and I received a manuscript copy from the kind publisher, and we're excited. Gunther comes through strong, direct, and determined, and his sidekicks Willy Kunkle and Sammy Martens, our favorites, have great roles. Good suspense, good wrestling, and a satisfying ending make this a terrific addition to the series.

Mayor's not an overtly political character himself (isn't even married to one as far as we know), but in two ways he dips a toe into the stream. The first is Joe Gunther's continued dilemma of having his long-time lover Gail more interested in state politics than in his world of Brattleboro and crime patrol. The other is Mayor's own life, quietly positioned as a constable, "first responder" (rescue squad member), and on-the-spot medical examiner for deaths in southeastern Vermont. He's chosen to be positively involved in community life, not a common choice for an active author in many of the stereotypes. When we host an event for him on Monday November 13, we won't be surprised if he's wearing half a dozen pagers that keep him in touch with the responsibilities he chooses. Moreover, his plots -- which grapple with the changes in Vermont, from land development to downtown yuppification to taxes to drugs -- offer an insider's view of what we all hope to protect and nurture in our hometowns. Part of the emotional value of reading a Joe Gunther book is, Joe sees what's going on. And cares about it.

So in this season when the role of Americans in the world is so much on our minds and affecting our political choices, both Mayor and Taylor, each in a different way, remind us that the choices are real. A vote has rarely been as significant as in the past few years. Every voice makes a difference, especially in Vermont.

Tomorrow: Another form of commitment to change, as poet Martín Espada comes north.

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