Thursday, October 13, 2011

Archer Mayor and Joe Gunther: Books 15-18

First edition
Where Gatekeeper and The Sniper's Wife took Archer Mayor's Joe Gunther series onto unusual ground, narrating mostly from points of view that were not Joe's but those of his colleagues, these next four books see the series return to classic police procedurals. And in a way, they are the plateau before the major leaps that Mayor and his detective protagonist take in books 19 to 21 -- which we'll look at tomorrow.

First edition
For today, note that all four first-edition covers of these books, THE SURROGATE THIEF (2004), ST. ALBANS FIRE (2005), THE SECOND MOUSE (2006), and CHAT (2007), are credited to Robert Santora, whose work also formed the preceding three covers. The CHAT cover shares design credit between Santora and Don Puckey, with Santora creating the illustration, a collage of house, weapon, computer, and out-of-date gasoline pump. They form a nice sequence on the shelf, markedly similar at the spine, although the first three are published by Mysterious Press (sometimes Time Warner Book Group, sometimes Hachette) and the fourth is Grand Central Publishing (Hachette Book Group). A reader new to the series could step in at this group and not suffer from skipping the others -- although long-time fans would never forget the first 14 books!

In the first of the foursome, what appears to be a simple -- if violent -- domestic dispute handled by the Brattleboro police force ends up involving Joe Gunther in his role as head of the still new Vermont Bureau of Investigation (a fictional police team). Investigation of the people involved and, especially, a firearm with a history leads to Joe's personal past, a season 30 years earlier, when his wife was dying of cancer. Mayor skillfully ups the ante, putting Joe and his most recent love, Gail Zigman, at risk due to a long-unsolved crime. Tension ramps up and stays there, pushing the pace of THE SURROGATE THIEF. A lingering question at the end of the book is: Will Joe and Gail close their long-running intimacy, as Gail moves forward in a direction far different from the detective's?

Archer Mayor's reprint
Not, of course, that these books are romances -- they're moderately dark crime fiction. But the seasoning that makes them worth reading, volume after volume, is the stress that the police life sends into Joe Gunther's friendships and family. ST. ALBANS FIRE takes him to the corner of Vermont most distant from his focal town of Brattleboro -- the hard-living area where St. Albans and surrounding farms struggle for economic survival. Backed by Sammie Martens and Willy Kunkle, Joe survives his own firestorm of violence and threat -- and it gets way too close to what's left of his relationship with Gail Zigman, while the team chases down the criminals.

First edition
In THE SECOND MOUSE (named for the expression "the early bird may get the worm, but it's the second mouse that gets the cheese" -- think about it), the tension building behind the scenes of Joe Gunther's life gets a time-out, as Gunther buckles down to breaking open an intense and violent trio based in Bennington, about 30 miles away across a mountain chain. Sammie Martens, Willy Kinkle, and Lester Spinney stick close, as the risks mount and Joe works to penetrate the emotional tangle of domestic and wider abuse erupting into violence.

First edition
And with CHAT, the investigative team makes a technological leap forward, into Internet crime. But it's the threats to Gunther's mother and brother -- present only very lightly in earlier books -- that force sacrifices beyond the usual range that the job requires.

Small threads from these four will lead into the next chapter of this investigator's life, in books 19 to 21, Gunther's reach extends toward the New England coast. Check back in tomorrow for a recap.

And if you still haven't reserved your signed copy of book 22, TAG MAN, you have less than 2 days left. Archer Mayor visits Kingdom Books on Saturday Oct. 15 at 2 p.m. -- and by Dave's count, half of the copies we've stocked for the event are already spoke for. Yes, we ship; and yes, we have most of the other Archer Mayor/Joe Gunther titles. Catch Dave at 802-751-8374 or to ask about specifics.

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