Joe Gunther, head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, is presented with a most unusual crime. A body, encased in concrete with no identification on it save a wedding ring inscribed “HM and SM forever,” was found at the soon-to-be-dismantled Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, close to the VBI’s office in Brattleboro. Vermont Yankee was controversial from its beginnings in 1970, and finding a corpse there more than forty years later will prove to be just as troubling.
With the workman’s discovery, all of the state’s investigative agencies are called in. The autopsy, conducted by Vermont’s chief medical examiner Beverly Hillstrom, brings several facts to light, namely that the body is that of a man in his thirties, almost certainly a manual laborer, who had broken his upper right arm shortly before his death. That last piece of information leads Joe to a nearby hospital where records show that a Hank Mitchell had been treated for such an injury decades earlier. Hank Mitchell’s next-of-kin is listed as Mrs. Sharon Mitchell at a local address, so Joe and a colleague go to her home to find out if the man at the plant was her husband.
After examining the body in the morgue, Sharon confirms the man’s identity. She tells Joe and his fellow officer Willie Kunkle that Hank left their house one day in 1970 and never returned, so she and the couple’s son and daughter were left in limbo until the present discovery. “What you showed me today proves I was right all along. I never believed he just walked away, like people said,” states his widow.
On a lighter note in the novel we meet the father-daughter team of Dan and Sally Kravitz. Dan has been known for years in Brattleboro by various sobriquets–the man without a home, the man without a fixed job, the man who could do everything–and many more. But for all those nicknames, none got to the true Dan Kravitz. Only two people in the city know that he is “The Tag Man,” a man who enters people’s home while they’re sleeping or away, never taking anything but leaving a note saying “You’re it.” Oh, and he always makes certain to eat some of the homeowners’ delicacies before leaving. And now his daughter is working with him.
The two people who know about Dan’s secret identity are his daughter and the above-mentioned Willie Kunkle. Why doesn’t Willie arrest Dan? Well, because he’s proven himself useful in the past, albeit in an illegal way, and will do so again.
Presumption of Guilt is the twenty-seventh Joe Gunther mystery. In such a long-running series, there is naturally a great deal of back story about Joe and the various paths he’s taken in his career. Archer Mayor, too, has taken many different roads to lead him to being the successful author he is: political advance-man, newspaper writer/editor, lab technician, and death investigator for the Vermont Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. He brings that wealth of experience to his protagonist, a strong, ethical professional who is in law enforcement for all the right reasons. Presumption of Guilt will keep you guessing until the last page.
You can read more about Archer Mayor at this web site.
Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.