Sunday, October 23, 2011

A KILLER'S ESSENCE: Crime and Horror from Dave Zeltserman

There's a lot going on around me that makes Dave Zelterserman's September release, A KILLER'S ESSENCE, seem especially on target. Zeltserman's books have already staked out a lot of turf in two areas: Boston crime with the cold-blooded violence of Whitey Bulger and his associates (Pariah, Small Crimes, and Killer), and savvy horror (see The Caretaker of Lorne Field). With Bulger's recent arrest -- and his casual nastiness in accepting this, along with the possibility that he may be able to trade his silence for some kind of deal -- Zeltserman's crime fiction stands out as investigations of the minds of urban sociopathic killers. Mind you, there's plenty of plot with each book, too, but it's the insight into this kind of thinking that marks this author's work particularly.

Now, in the spooky season when horror fiction rises up and claims the front row, here comes THE KILLER'S ESSENCE. It starts out as a routine police detection novel -- except for the hint that the investigating officer, Stan Green, had a childhood experience of seeing "something" when a butcher-type murderer tried to invite him into the back room, so to speak. Other aspects feel familiar to the noir genre, too: Stan's got a rather sleazy girlfriend named Bambi, an ex-wife and two kids who are starting to despise him (well, the ex-wife is long past the start, actually), and a boss who pressures him into accepting cases when he's supposed to be doing things with the kids he's already let down so often.

But Zeltserman pulls this frame inside out in two ways. The first is a perfect fit with this season's TV shows that include the paranormal: He's got a crime witness who avoids faces because often when he looks at them, he sees, well, either hallucinations, or depictions of the horrors of some people's souls. (Think Stuart Neville's Irish crime fiction, haunted and horrific.) But there's a totally unexpected twist that this author pulls off, summed up this way: Who says the best path for a cop caught in a desperate situation is always to take a stiff shot of whiskey and watch his life fall apart?? Check out how vastly different the plot line might be, after all.

That's it -- read the book to discover a truly novel form of noir, smoothly written with immense craft, and raising some enduring questions and lingering images. Way to go, DZ!

Dashiell Hammett, THE MALTESE FALCON -- Artwork

Illustrator OWEN SMITH created these (signed) prints for the San Francisco Arts Commission Market Street Project. They depict Dashiell Hammett's Maltese Falcon. We one each of the five shown here ($25 + $5 shipping each, 18"x12"). Drop us an e-mail at if interested.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Hurrah! Vermont Author Howard Frank Mosher Receives NEIBA Award

In all the news of occupying Wall Street and hoping for self-determination in so many struggling nations, let's not forget the good news at home that keeps us hopeful. The NEIBA President's Award Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts was actually announced months ago, but the award ceremony happened last week. Our heartfelt congratulations to Howard Frank Mosher, and to NEIBA (the New England Independent Booksellers Association) for its good New England sense in making such a great and appropriate choice.

Hi, Folks,

I'd like to thank the New England Independent Booksellers Association and, in particular, outgoing NEIBA President Dick Hermans, for the President's Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts that I received on October 12 at the NEIBA Conference in Providence.

Over the years, the independent booksellers of New England and beyond have helped establish and sustain the careers of hundreds of writers, kept "the book," as we know it, alive and well, and fought tirelessly and courageously to safeguard our First Amendment rights to read, write, and say what we wish to.

I can think of no greater honor for a writer to receive than the President's Award from this distinguished organization.  To all indie booksellers, and to all of my friends and readers, thank you.

All best,
The books: Walking to Gatlinburg (2010), On Kingdom Mountain (2007), Waiting for Teddy Williams (2004), The True Account (2003), The Fall of the Year (1999), North Country (1997), Northern Borders (1994), A Stranger in the Kingdom (1989), Marie Blythe (1983), Where the Rivers Flow North (1978), Disappearances (1977). (We try to keep these in stock ... signed firsts. Use the search link in the right-hand column if you want to check on what's available this week.)
The latest ...

Calendar Alert: Poetry in 2012

This series, offered just south of the Vermont border in Shelburne Falls, MA, brings such good poets that I figure it's worth inking into the calendar.  I'm hoping to post some poetry reviews tomorrow, along with a mystery or two. Weekends are both ...

The Collected Poets Series
announces the schedule for 2012.

January 5, 2012

No CPS — The Post-Holiday Hiatus

February 2, 2012

Ellen LaFleche & Jennifer Militello

March 1, 2012

Abbot Cutler & Diane Wald

April 5, 2012

Deborah Brown & Jeff Friedman

May 3, 2012

Ewa Chrusciel & Mary Ruefle

June 7, 2012

Alexandria Peary & Wally Swist

July 5, 2012

Peggy O’Brien & Dawn Potter

No CPS Readings in August or September

October 4, 2012

Patrick Donnelly & Jean Valentine

November 1, 2012

Andrea Cohen & special guests

December 6, 2012

Lori Desrosiers & Cindy Snow

The Collected Poets Series highlights the work of established and emerging poets. Each event showcases the remarkable local poets of Western Massachusetts and the finest regional, national, and international talent.
The series is held the first Thursday of the month at 7:00 p.m. at Mocha Maya's, 47 Bridge Street, Shelburne Falls, MA, Phone: 413-625-6292.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Three Autumn Releases: SAINT'S GATE by Carla Neggers, GHOST HERO by S. J. Rozan, ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVY by Delia Rosen

Whew, what a busy season! Launching my own second novel (The Secret Room) and welcoming Archer Mayor back to Kingdom Books (Tag Man, number 22 with Joe Gunther) pushed up against finishing the garden, canning applesause, freezing apple pie slices, making lemon-tomato conserve, pruning the apple trees (still need to prune the roses and raspberries).  So of course, I've read some new mysteries for pleasure, in the little scraps of time I could find. Here are three:

SAINT'S GATE is the start of a new series by Carla Neggers, who lives in Vermont but it best known as a national author, with at least four other suspense series already rolling. This one is set in Maine and features FBI art crimes expert Emma Sharpe and one of the FBI's deep-cover agents, Colin Donovan. The two of them collide, each investigating the death of a nun at a seacoast convent and possible ties to international thefts and violence. Friction between their approaches heats up some of the action, and soon it's clear the two investigators need to make time for each other -- but work comes first, and Neggers includes a taste of her beloved Ireland in the process of plotting the downfall of the criminals involved. Smooth, polished, clearly the work of an experienced pro in braiding together detection and romance, SAINT'S GATE is a delightful read. I'm looking forward to more in this series -- as well as some of the others that are still unfolding. Check the author's website for more titles.

It's hard to resist plunging into each new book from S. J. Rozan, and her Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series continues to be a hit, set in New York's Chinatown and working deftly around the cultural conflicts of a Chinese investigator (whose mother wishes she'd marry a nice Chinese man!) and her partner in business, and slowly personally, Bill Smith. This one's not a romance, although strands of the past entanglements and future possibilities between Chin and Smith drift by from time to time; it's a brisk and very action-oriented investigation novel, featuring artwork by Chau Chun -- "Ghost Hero Chau," presumably killed during the shooting in Tiananmen Square in China. But art experts have reasons to disagree -- some of them clearly financial -- and organized crime has its fingers all over the art world. Chin and Smith and a third investigator, Jack Lee (a Chinese-American with a lot less Chinese than Lydia) race to resolve the conflict and head off further violence. Rozan spins an enjoyable tale, and this one is especially notable for the nearly constant one-liners that the three investigators swap; I ache to see the film version (think Pink Panther, but better!). Lydia steals the scene repeatedly, and is one of the most likable detectives in today's mysteries.

Delia Rosen's second "Nashville Katz" mystery, ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVY, follows the cute and clever "cozy" A Brisket, a Casket. It should be clear from the titles that the author is an avid punster, and Gwen Katz brings a dollop of New York Jewish culture to the Nashville, Tennessee, Jewish-style deli that she's inherited from her Uncle Murray. This second book plunges Katz and her crew into trouble at their first catering gig, when a wealthy guest, murdered, falls through the ceiling, splashing gravy and spoiling the event. Pit this amateur sleuth (and kitchen pro) against the local police investigation (they're not supposed to let the amateurs in on the hot trail, you know) and you've got issues as challenging as making Kosher dill pickles (see the recipes in the back of the book). The Jewish humor is a bit heavy-handed, but the plot is sweet, and the resolution satisfying. Hint to book sleuths: "Delia Rosen" is a pseudonym. When you've figured out the author's original name, check the relevant Wikipedia entry; it appears that those Internet sleuths don't yet connect this series to the author's amazing earlier work. It's worth keeping an eye on the series, since with such extensive experience behind this author, there are sure to be a lot of twists and turns already lined up for the future volumes. Hint: From what I can see, the author of the second book is NOT the same as for the first one!

(Local and Good!) A Treasure in Paper Covers: GOOD LIVING REVIEW

"To see a world in a grain of sand ... And eternity in an hour," wrote the poet William Blake. My copy of Good Living Review, being published next week in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, is a great example of how the world of American life in the first half of the 1900s can be seen inside a paper cover.

This collection of thirty-three recollections -- some entirely factual, some fictionalized, all graced with detail and delight -- comes to us from an ongoing "memoir writing group" at the Good Living Senior Center, a project at one of the town's most spectacular and historic locations, St. Johnsbury House. Inspired by what filmmaker Ken Burns crafted in his public television series on World War II, the group of Vermont residents have put their personal stories on paper, full of humor, joy, and insight.

I giggled with the tiny girl that Barbara Bessette once was, as she recalled riding in a surrey, a beautiful wagon, behind a farting mare, to deliver dairy products in the French Canadian part of town. Born in 1929, this author experienced rides in a "one-horse open sleigh" too, and the rumble of home life next to an active railroad track near the river. "Skating at night in the moonlight was a blast, and in the field some of the grownups would come down and build a bonfire."

In that single sentence is captured a way of life that's almost incredible today: parents having fun with their children outdoors, without a wad of cash or any electronics or synthetic protections against the weather. "That's what's great in a small town," Bessette concludes: "There's always something to do, and never a dull moment."

And that's exactly what this wonderful collection brings, ranging from a drawing of a handmade periscope that Arthur Lord could use to see out of his foxhole during the war, to Rosalie Vear's reflections on the bombing of Pearl Harbor and later of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (as well as her thoughts on her gardens), to Betty Simpson Blake's tale of a ten-cents-a-week insurance policy in the Depression, and its results in a hardscrabble family where tragedy struck. I plan to read all of these many times -- already, I'm eager to take another look at Pat Horvatich's piece that begins, "My mother's psychic ability came into force just about mid-life."

These recollections and reflections of rural life -- whether on the farm, in town, or on the road -- create a treasured window into a world we've almost forgotten was so close to us. Thank goodness, the many writers in Good Living Review, with the skillful encouragement of memoirist Reeve Lindbergh, choose to remember and spill forth the details for us all. I love discovering the gems on each new page of this book. What a treat!

Obtain a copy through the local independent general bookstore, Boxcar & Caboose, and keep up with the authors and their book events at their own Facebook page. The stories may be from the past, but the storytellers are up-to-date and savvy, and ready to give a grin or a wink as they recall the fun they've had.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thank You, Archer Mayor and Kingdom Book Folks!

Yesterday's visit from Archer Mayor was truly a celebration, as Dave announced that this multitasking author of the Joe Gunther police detection series is hitting the New York Times bestseller list for this week, with his 22nd book in the series, TAG MAN. And we had more than 22 fans on hand to celebrate; that was the chair count, and I know some generous and merry people ended up sitting on the (padded) stairs and standing at the back. So we'll take that as an omen that there are many more good Archer Mayor books ahead! Special thanks to his support team, too, including Margo Zalkind, who brought bookmarks, VBI "Euro-style" bumper stickers, and an active camera.

Pardon my own shaky shot here, taken while juggling books and a plate of cookies and enjoying the "after-reading" conversation as people waited to get books signed. From my hasty notes on the side: The very creepy aspect to the Tag Man's activities in this latest book comes from a "dream" that Archer and his daughter have shared: wishing they could have the gift of invisibility. Way to go! Thanks again, all of you, for a perfect afternoon of books, discussion, and happiness.

Coming tomorrow: Reviews of other titles I've been waiting to tell you about!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Archer Mayor and Joe Gunther: Books 19-21

First edition
Two things have struck me as I've worked with this set of "recaps" of the 21 Joe Gunther mysteries that precede TAG MAN -- which Archer Mayor will introduce in person here at Kingdom Books tomorrow, October 15, at 2 p.m.: (1) These books can all stay on my "re-read these" shelf -- the passage of time only makes them better, as they unfold with skilled narrative and intelligent plots, as well as friendships that last -- and change -- for years. (2) Seeing them in groups of three or four reveals the swings of change in how Mayor has presented Joe and the engaging characters that share his investigations: journalist Stan Katz, medical examiner Beverly Hillstrom, detectives Sammie Martens and Willy Kunkle, and more.

Large-print edition
The preceding four books presented separate investigations, separate adventures. What linked them, though, and raised the ante over time, was the changes in Joe Gunther's life as both investigator and intimate partner of the very intelligent, very determined Gail Zigman, whom Joe met in his hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont. By the end of Chat, readers knew that Gail was unlikely to defeat the violent spectres that Joe's career kept bringing to her, with their induced flashbacks of a crime that victimized her years before. You could taste Joe's loneliness, inevitable and powerful as a freight train pulling through a crossing.

In THE CATCH (St Martins/Minotaur, 2008), while Joe's personal life may have shriveled, his professional life is in high gear. Head of the prestigious (and fictional) Vermont Bureau of Investigation, or VBI, Gunther tackles the investigation of a cop killing, way on the other side of the state. Uncovering the details sends the investigation explosively into more New England states, especially along the coast. From Boston, to Portsmouth, NH, to Maine, Joe Gunther and his team discover the long reach of crime, organized and powerful. And unexpectedly, he partners with a new lover, someone both tough and sweet, someone who's not afraid to say "I love you" to Joe, even as she's wrestling with her own complicated family life and starting a business in Brattleboro herself.

First edition
Large-print edition
But what Joe discovers in the course of his investigations has a dark impact on Lyn Silva, and THE PRICE OF MALICE (Minotaur, 2009) tests his self-image and his dreams for a comfortable future. For Lyn too, there's no guarantee that it's going to be worth tackling all the darkness that Joe is bringing into her life. Suddenly she leaves town, determined to solve the mysteries and perhaps serious crimes of her family's past. Encouraged by his team of detectives, who cover for him, Joe goes "AWOL" himself, tackling the risks that Lyn has both engaged with and fueled. The risk level for both of them is extreme, and the violence plays out not in Vermont, where Joe has ready backup, but along the ragged shoreline of the state of Maine.

RED HERRING (Minotaur, 2010) may be the most shocking of the Joe Gunther books, as the ultimate sacrifice of crimefighting -- the potential loss of life in a police officer's family -- becomes a reality for this overextended, overworking investigator. In fact, the plot twists are so intense that I won't hint at them, only adding here that when Joe's team finds several "unrelated" murders on their hands, Joe ends up out of state, finding advanced technical help beyond anything shown on CSI -- yet this is an Archer Mayor book, so the solution isn't fantasy, but hard science, exotic and intense though it sometimes appears. If you haven't read any of the Joe Gunther series, and you're about to pick up a copy of TAG MAN, please try really, really hard to grab and read RED HERRING first. It's the back story to the costs that book 22 will highlight.

Large-print edition
And that's it for now. Dave and I hope to see you tomorrow at the shop, or online afterward, or maybe to talk with you by phone (Dave epitomizes the term "book consultant," ready at the ring of a phone to plunge into which good mysteries might be next for your list). Most of all, try to be here to meet Archer Mayor. I've mentioned before that he's shown up here in a bulletproof vest once ("no time to change before driving here") and another time announced, "I can only stay an hour, there's a dead body waiting for me" (he's a state death examiner). I'm very, very curious about what we'll learn tomorrow -- about Archer Mayor, Joe Gunther, and an award-winning series that's maturing and thriving with its readers. Congrats, Archer and readers, for putting TAG MAN onto next week's New York Times bestseller list (yes, already announced!). Here's to book 22 ... a heck of good one, with 21 others behind it.

PS -- The three large-print covers shown here are from the Thorndike Mystery Series. Nice!

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.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


An American house generally includes a door, maybe two; windows; a kitchen facility; a place to sleep; a place to entertain; and facilities for getting clean on a daily basis.

In the same way, the mystery genre has conventions about characters, plot, resolution -- and although they can be bent, even sometimes broken, if a book moves too far from the genre's guidelines, it's no longer a mystery (or thriller or suspense novel or work of detective fiction ... lots of subcategories available, including the characteristics of dark-and-urban or familiar-and-cozy).

Sometimes I'm lost when I read a book that I think is going to be a mystery, but find it's not one. That's what happened when I read Chris Bohjalian's new and very creepy suspense novel, THE NIGHT STRANGERS. For a while, I wasn't sure what to make of it ...

Then, lucky me, I found Margot Harrison's review in Seven Days and discovered that this book is actually classic horror fiction. I was fascinated by Harrison's review of the horror genre conventions, and her pleasure with how Bohjalian carried out his new creation.

Check out her review -- because it comes from being well informed on horror novels, it's knowledgeable, interesting, and, to me, revelatory. Thanks, Margot.

Archer Mayor and Joe Gunther: Books 12-14

First edition
Archer Mayor's reprint
TUCKER PEAK (2001) takes Joe Gunther and Sammie Martens undercover in the shabby side of condo development of a ski resort. At this point in the series, that means Willy Kunkle is on hand, too -- and not happy about Sammie taking such risks. I don't have a copy handy, so I'll stay brief here and just add the cover art. Check out the excerpt on Archer Mayor's website.

First edition
THE SNIPER'S WIFE (2002) and GATEKEEPER (2003) both have covers designed by Robert Santora, who also did the art involved. Breaking drastically with the series, The Sniper's Wife takes Willy Kunkle, the irascible and irritating Vietnam vet on Joe's team, into New York City to confront his past. The narrative is from Willy's point of view, with Joe Gunther as almost a minor character. From chases to gunfire to flashbacks, it's pretty much Willy's book -- a treat for those who've especially enjoyed this difficult and angry but effective detective in previous volumes.

Gatekeeper veers in the opposite direction, taking on the female viewpoints from the team: that of Sammie Martens, again undercover but this time slipping across Vermont's southern border (beyond the "gate"), and that of Joe's former intimate partner Gail Zigman. Lester Spinney, an investigator familiar from smaller appearances in earlier books, gives Joe a hand.

First edition
A lot of bad news about the new world of drug-running and 21st-century crime piles up in these volumes, as the down side of urban life pushes firmly north into the Green Mountain State. The next four books in the series tackle Joe Gunther's role in the Vermont Bureau of Investigation. And then, for books 19-21, we see a new aspect to the Vermont detective's work and directions.

Archer Mayor's reprint
If you've been following this series of posts, you know why we're running them: Archer Mayor presents his 22nd Joe Gunther mystery, TAG MAN, this fall, and introduces the book here at Kingdom Books this coming Saturday (10/15) at 2 p.m., with signing and discussion. Hope you can join us.

Archer Mayor and Joe Gunther: Books 9-11

First edition
Archer Mayor's reprint cover
THE DISPOSABLE MAN (1998) is one of the more complex of Archer Mayor's Joe Gunther series. It opens with a corpse that Joe identifies as a probably Mob hit, takes Joe through a frame-up, wrestles with the complex and fragile relationship that he and his lover Gail Zigman are rebuilding (she is recovering from being raped; Joe is often helpless in the river of grief and pain that engulfs the two of them), and tangles Joe and his team with both the CIA and the FBI. As I look back now, I'm stunned at the amount of research that must have gone into this one -- way beyond the author's usual police and emergency responder jobs in southeastern Vermont. I'm going to steal some time over the end-of-year holidays to re-read it from cover to cover.

First edition
Archer Mayor's reprint
The tenth Gunther investigation is OCCAM'S RAZOR (1999), and that's what I spent my last two evenings re-reading. I always felt the title spoke especially to me, since I knew what "Occam's Razor" represented in logic and philosophy (and science): that the simplest explanation is often the strongest, as long as it covers all the data. The death at the start of the book is a nasty one: a man placed on a railroad track at night, just before the train arrives -- taking off his head and hands as it chugs past. Mayor brings the plot back home in this one, as Lieutenant Joe Gunther and his three other detectives -- Ron, Sammie, and Willy -- work their way through the "bottom feeders" of Brattleboro, figuring out the connections among poker players, a journal-keeping prostitute, and illegal hauling of toxic waste. By the end of the well-written and intricately plotted book, two startling changes have arrived on the otherwise familiar home turf: Sammie has lost her heart and then started over, and Joe has applied to the state's new (and totally imaginary) police team, the Vermont Bureau of Investigation (VBI). Those set the stage for the next ten books ahead.

First edition
Archer Mayor's reprint
In THE MARBLE MASK, Joe tackles his first assignment as head of the new and mostly unwelcome VBI. And it's a head-spinner that begins with a frozen body at a ski slope -- a body that's been frozen since the end of the Second World War. Mayor was a town constable in a Vermont village while writing this one, but in his hands, Gunther's investigation extended not just 50 years back in time, but across an international border, into Quebec. With Joe's most difficult fellow investigator, Willy Kunkle, caught up in the VBI work, problems multiply. Joe's own take on Willy is: "A complicated, difficult man, fighting more internal battles than any of us could know." Is there even a chance that the VBI will make room for Willy over the long haul?

Hold that thought, because it has a lot to do with the next three books. By the way, art for the original covers of these three books is by Mark Elliott.

* * *
Planning to come to Archer Mayor's Oct. 15 visit at Kingdom Books? He'll be here at 2 p.m. to introduce TAG MAN. Please do reserve your book in advance if you can -- we've got a nice stack but it won't last. Catch Dave at 802-751-8374 or; yes, we ship.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Archer Mayor and Joe Gunther: Books 6-8

First edition
Archer Mayor's reprint
The hardcover versions of THE DARK ROOT (1995), THE RAGMAN'S MEMORY (1996), and BELLOWS FALLS (1997) all feature artwork by Chris Gall, following up on the Art Deco note of the preceding volumes. In terms of plot, there's tremendous diversity among these three -- yet they came out one after another, as author Archer Mayor reached his full strength, deploying Joe Gunther's police skills and steady character within Vermont's crime landscape.

But with The Dark Root, Mayor demonstrates that while it may be Vermont crime on hand, the forces fighting it extend well beyond the state's borders. An Asian family in Brattleboro suffers a brutal home invasion from Asian gang members -- and the FBI, the Border Patrol, and the Canadian Mounties all get involved, and Joe Gunther's investigation takes him to Montreal. Joe's personal life with Gail Zigman plays an interesting counterpoint to the crime plot. I'm glad Archer Mayor brought this out again, in trade-size paperback, as the hardcover has become downright scarce.

First edition
Archer Mayor's repring
The Ragman's Memory is one of my faves -- I've read it half a dozen times at least. I'm drawn by the way this one digs into the most impoverished areas and groups in southern Vermont, including the "ragman": a shell-shocked World War II veteran who may have the key to unraveling the criminal landscape that's blossoming in death and destruction. Good appearances from Sammie Martens, Willy Kunkle, Ron Klesczewski, and journalist Stanley Katz. Now that I think about it, it's time to re-read this one again.

First edition
Driving through Bellows Falls today, the marvels of downtown refurbishing triggered by artist and organizer Robert McBride distract the eye from the gritty former milltown that Mayor portrays in Bellows Falls. But those old factories are still mostly empty, the railroad sidings speak of rough times, and there are Paleo-Indian petroglyphs on the rocks along the river. A lot of hard living, as well as a lot of joy, continues in this town. And in the book, Joe Gunther faces some of the toughest crime scenes and chase sequences imaginable. Gail Zigman and Sammie Martens make brief appearances.

Archer Mayor's softcover reprint
Coming tomorrow: books 9-11, which include the two titles I've read most often and with most pleasure in the masterful storytelling.

Reminder: Archer Mayor joins us at Kingdom Books in Waterford, Vermont, on Sat. Oct. 15 at 2 pm for an intense introduction to book 22 in the series, TAG MAN. Be sure to reserve your signed copy of this one, and any of the earlier books, by getting in touch with Dave, either via e-mail ( or phone (802-751-8374). And yes, we do ship, if you can't be here in person.
First softcover design

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Archer Mayor and Joe Gunther: Books 3-5

Archer Mayor's later issue

First softcover
Archer Mayor reached a yearly rhythm with book 3 in the Joe Gunther investigations: SCENT OF EVIL (1992). I wish I had a copy here to show you the hardcover first edition art; it's hard to find now, and there is one due to arrive here later in the week. I'll post the two softcover versions, though: the first mass-market paperback (if you've visited the Latchis Hotel in Brattleboro, VT, you know where the idea for the artwork came from), and the lovely moody one Archer chose when he brought out the book again as his own publisher. In SCENT OF EVIL we met Detective Ron Klecszewski, who'll back Joe up in many more volumes to come; the book opens with a hand sticking out of a heap of dirt at a construction site.

The author's design choice
Book 4 is SKELETON'S KNEE (1993). The hardcover "firsts" of this one are even more scarce, so we're pleased to have one on the shelf, waiting for Archer Mayor's Oct. 15 visit here, to add an author signature. I remember the excitement of reading this when it first was published: The Vermont police investigator takes off for Chicago to learn about gangland killings, thanks to a set of leads developed by medical examiner Dr. Beverly Hillstrom and her team. (I also remember the day I learned that Hillstrom was based on Mayor's friendship and research with an actual Vermont ME, also a woman. More on that later.) Joe's investigating partner J. P. Tyler has a strong role in the story.

Hardcover first edition
First softcover

Hardcover, and first softcover
Archer Mayor's design choice
With book 5, FRUITS OF THE POISONOUS TREE (1994), the design route from the paperback covers migrates to the hardcovers. And this is the gripping volume in which Joe's girlfriend Gail Zigman is raped, putting their relationship into grave danger as well. Willy Kunkle and Sammie Martens assist in investigating, and Joe's brother Leo is at hand when Joe himself is attacked. Especially worth re-reading, as it forms the base for much that will take place in Joe's personal life in the later books.

NOTE: Kingdom Books is excited to welcome Archer Mayor again for an introduction to his newest Joe Gunther book, TAG MAN, on Saturday Oct. 15 at 2 p.m. (questions, discussion, signing -- yes!). We're admittedly eccentric in our business model: If you want a signed copy of TAG MAN, it's a good idea to reserve it ahead of time. And if you're looking for any of the earlier titles, please get in touch with us -- we may only have a single copy of some titles. Thanks!