I recently discovered Archer Mayor’s mystery series starring Joe Gunther, an agent working for the Vermont Bureau of Investigation. I enjoy reading crime fiction that’s well constructed and fair to the reader, so when I find an author who does that I tend to hang onto them. I’m going to be hanging onto Mayor and his series hero.
The Second Mouse (from a title given to him by his daughter, whom he thanks in the book) is actually the 17th Joe Gunther novel, so I’ve got some catching up to do, but that’s okay. I like discovering writers I hadn’t read before who have a backlog of books. That way the treasure of the find lasts much longer.
As it turns out, Mayor is an old hand at murder and mayhem. In his native state of Vermont, he also serves as a death investigator for the state medical examiner and as a volunteer fireman/EMT. I’m sure he finds plenty to write about in his everyday experiences.
The latest book begins gently, but with lots of unanswered questions, which just so happens to be my favorite way for mysteries to take shape. Joe Gunther isn’t a superhero/Clint Eastwood type of cop. He’s very human. He’s also easy to get to know and is exactly the kind of guy you want on your side when life gets messy and dangerous.
Gunther arrives on the scene of Michelle Fisher’s death just looking for something to fill in some empty hours. His long-time girlfriend of 20 years has lately broken up with him and he’s still trying to figure out what he should do about that.
He immediately gets crossways with the Vermont local policeman, who are there working the unattended death (which is a death that happens when no one is watching, and is unexpected). The officer thinks Joe is there to “poach” his case. Joe immediately allays the man’s suspicions and even offers to back out, but is asked to stay on.
As it turns out, Michelle Fisher had recently lost her husband and was getting evicted from her house by her crass father-in-law. Threatening letters from attorneys written on behalf of her father-in-law quickly bear that out. Joe isn’t satisfied with the woman’s death being purely natural, so he digs a little deeper.