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Book Author: Archer Mayor

TRACE by Archer Mayor: Book Review

Vermont isn’t a state with a high murder rate, but things are definitely heating up now for Joe Gunther and his detectives at the Vermont Bureau of Investigation.  Three different cases–one the murder of a young New York woman, one a cold case involving the deaths of a policeman and the man he stopped for a traffic violation, the third a mysterious finding at a railroad track–all converge simultaneously for the VBI.

Jayla Robinson has just arrived at the Brattleboro bus station, escaping an abusive relationship in New York.  A few minutes after getting off the bus, she’s absent-mindedly crossing an intersection when she’s grazed by an oncoming car.  Jayla says she’s fine, not hurt at all, but Rachel, the young woman driving, insists on taking her to her apartment for a cup of tea and to make certain she’s really okay.  The two hit it off almost immediately, and Rachel invites Jayla to stay with her until she finds a job and an apartment.  But when Jayla’s boyfriend/abuser locates her, he sends an enforcer either to retrieve an item that she took when she fled his home or to “dispose” of her, whichever is easier.  Unfortunately for Jayla, he chooses the latter.

The cold case was called into the VBI by a member of the state’s forensic team.  Tina Sackman was doing some research into fingerprints and thinks she has found something strange in the case involving state trooper Ryan Paine and the man he pulled over for a routine traffic stop, Kyle Kennedy.  Shots were exchanged and both men were killed.  Now, in going over what had seemed an open-and-shut case, Tina discovers something disquieting about the trooper’s fingerprints on the gun he supposedly used to shoot the driver–they appear to have been placed on his gun by artificial means.

The third case begins when a child discovers, and then brings to the local police station, three bloody, broken teeth that she found by the railroad tracks.

All this is happening while Joe Gunther, head of the Bureau, is handling a family emergency.  His younger brother Leo calls with the news that their elderly mother is in a “bad way.”  After finally having gotten their reluctant mother to visit her doctor, Leo tells Joe that the physician’s diagnosis is Lyme encephalitis, a tick-borne disease that affects the nervous system, bringing with it mood swings, cognitive problems, and personality change.  The doctor at the Darmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center tells Joe and Leo that the best place for Mrs. Gunther to receive rehabilitative care is in St. Louis, and Joe immediately decides that he will take her there and stay with her while she’s undergoing treatment and rehab.  So, while the three cases are being investigated, the head of the Bureau is out of state.

Trace is the twenth-eighth (!) book in the Joe Gunther series.  Not surprisingly, given the background of the author, the series presents a totally realistic picture of law enforcement in both a mid-size city department and a state investigatory agency.  Archer Mayor is currently a death investigator for the Vermont Office of the Chief Medical Examiner as well as a detective for the Windham County Sheriff’s Office.  Readers who have been following Joe and his squad–Lester Spinney, Willy Kunkle, and Samantha Martens–will be delighted to see them again in this novel that will hold their interest until the end.

You can read more about Archer Mayor at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

PRESUMPTION OF GUILT by Archer Mayor: Book Review

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.