Saturday, October 12, 2013

Vermont Police Mystery: Archer Mayor, THREE CAN KEEP A SECRET

Archer Mayor's Vermont includes the fictional but very reasonably created Vermont Bureau of Investigation, the VBI -- for which Brattleboro resident and former local police officer Joe Gunther holds the command post. THREE CAN KEEP A SECRET is a twist on the old expression, "Two can keep a secret if one of them is dead." And in this 24th Joe Gunther investigation, long-buried secrets are reopened thanks to Hurricane Irene as the storm creates havoc and catastrophe around the Green Mountain State.

Riding along with Gunther, north and south, east and west, covers most of Vermont in this round. I was on scene during the storm, and what Gunther discovers in terms of its ravages -- swamped downtowns, smashed homes, rivers that rose, ripped, and retreated -- matches my own memories, with extra mud and sewage dished up on the side. Joe even dons a haz-mat suit to enter the underground tunnels of the state's most haunting health care site, trying to help the local police force locate a missing patient from the state's central psychiatric hospital.

The escape of that patient -- a petite and apparently harmless lady who calls herself The Governor -- is one direct result of the hurricane. Another is a coffin, exposed in a washed-out cemetery, filled with rocks instead of a body. And then there's the suspicious death of a politically powerful senior citizen in a care facility that's got major strings attached.

In THREE CAN KEEP A SECRET, Archer Mayor dishes up a marvelous sequel to his 23 earlier books, and brings a highly satisfying cast of favorite characters back: not just Joe's "work family" of the irascible Willy Kunkle and blunt-spoken Sammie Martens, along with ultra-responsible Les Spinney, but also Joe's family of origin steps up: his brother Leo and their aging mom, who haven't appeared for a while in the series. It's great to have them here. And watching Sammie and Willy deal with assignments that compete, while parenting their infant daughter, adds extra interest to the setup.

Neither the rock-filled coffin nor the missing psychiatric patient gives up secrets easily. When they do resolve, though, Gunther and his team reach a surprising finale on each strand of this quick-paced traditional mystery. Clear the weekend calendar and settle down for a rousing good read.

And may the hurricane season be a lot gentler in the future!

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