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Archer Mayor's Joe Gunther detective series, 18 books in all, is one of the most enduring and critically acclaimed police procedural series being written today. For years, Mayor has integrated actual police methodology with intricately detailed plot lines in novels the New York Times has called “dazzling,” and Booklist has said are “among the best cop stories being written today.” Whereas many writers base their books on only interviews and scholarly research, Mayor's novels are based on actual experience in the field. The result adds a depth, detail and veracity to his characters and their tribulations that has led the New York Times to call him “the boss man on procedures,” and the Arizona Daily Star to write, “Few deliver such well-rounded novels of such consistent high quality.”

Before turning his hand to fiction, Mayor wrote history books, the most notable of which concerned the lumber and oil business in Louisiana from the 1870s to the 1970s. This book was published by the University of Georgia Press and very well received. Prior to that, Mayor—who was brought up in the US, Canada and France—was variously employed as a scholarly editor, a researcher for TIME-LIFE Books, a political advance-man, a theater photographer, a newspaper writer/editor, a lab technician for Paris-Match Magazine in Paris, France, and a medical illustrator. He is a graduate of Yale University.

The Joe Gunther detective series began in 1988 with Open Season, and now includes Borderlines, Scent of Evil, The Skeleton's Knee, Fruits of the Poisonous Tree, The Dark Root, The Ragman's Memory, Bellows Falls, The Disposable Man, Occam's Razor, The Marble Mask, Tucker Peak, The Sniper's Wife, Gatekeeper, The Surrogate Thief and The Second Mouse. The Los Angeles Times featured Scent of Evil in its 1992 year-end list of recommend readings and proclaimed The Skeleton's Knee “one of the best ten mystery books of the year” in 1993. That book also prompted the New York Times to call Mayor “one of the most sophisticated stylists in the genre,” and in 1997, to proclaim The Ragman's Memory one of only eleven “Notable” mysteries of the year—an honor it repeated in 2002 with The Sniper's Wife.



Q: Did you actually choose to work in the Mystery genre and if so why? (What does it offer that others do not?)

A: I did so choose, because I like to describe regular people in crisis, struggling to right their lives, appropriately and otherwise. Mystery stories that I enjoy are less about the puzzle and more about the people and the places they occupy. It¹s the problem solving that intrigues me, whether that problem is a criminal matter, a psychological impasse, or an emotional meltdown. Practically speaking, I also chose mystery writing as a genre for its financial stability (at least at the time.) I didn¹t feel that a series of unrelated novels would work as well, at least not when I was starting out. In retrospect, that may have been an error, and I may have been better served had I written a series of freestanding, mainstream novels. But we¹ll never know now, since I seem pretty stuck on Joe Gunther, and he seems to be providing me a pretty good podium.

Q: How much of your protagonist in either series is based upon yourself and/or important figures in your life?

A: None of my characters are based on any real figures in my life, nor would I say that any of them are based on me. I am sympathetic toward most of them, for their various traits, but this encompasses both the good and the bad, since we all have good and bad days. Thus, in the contrast between Joe Gunther (kind, avuncular, thoughtful, supportive) and Willy Kunkle (rude, direct, abrasive, carelessly honest,) I would say that have "Willy moments" and "Joe moments" every day.

Q:Which of your books comes closest to accomplishing your intention and why?

A: Sadly, perhaps, I don¹t have an answer to this. I don¹t write "mission" books, where I have a pointed agenda to address. In Fruits of the Poisonous Tree, I deal with rape, which I wanted to do sensitively and with the insight granted to me by the many people I interviewed. I am proud to have written that book, therefore, because of the supportive feedback I received, largely form people whose credibility I honor. But, having said that, every one of my books makes an effort to be true to its subject matter, and so whether it be rape or the elderly or domestic abuse or the cost of false accusation or the homeless, or any number of other issues I¹ve dealt with, I do my utmost to be thorough and balanced and informative without sounding preachy.

Q: Who or what have been your major influences regarding your writing? (What particular book/writer/film/person/event made you want to write and why?)

A: I have always read voraciously, although less so now that I¹m so busy. Curiously, I didn¹t read mystery fiction that much, although I certainly paid homage to the classics. As influences, I would cite Hammett, Chandler, and Ross McDonald.

Q: What new projects do you have in the pipeline?

A: I have another Gunther novel coming out in the Fall of 2008, from my new publisher, St. Martin's. I have become my own publisher, AMPress, which has just re-issued my first 12 Gunther novels as a set of very classy-looking trade paperbacks (but which might well branch out and publish other things as well in the future). I continue to write articles for the local AAA magazine, Northern New England Journey, and to work part-time for both the medical examiner¹s office and the Windham County sheriff as a deputy.

For more information on Archer, visit:



Open Season
Open Season


Scent of Evil
Scent of Evil

Skeletong's Knee
The Skeleton's Knee

Fruits of the Poisonous Tree
Fruits of the Poisonous Tree

The Dark Root
The Dark Root

Ragman's Memory
The Ragman's Memory

Bellows Falls
Bellows Falls

 book/s in review



Huron Mountain Club
Huron Mountain Club

Southern Timberman


Dartmouth Short Story

A Case for Surgical Removal

Mysterious Press 25th Anniversary
The Mysterious Press Anniversary Anthology


Grand Central Publishing (October 25, 2007) 336 pp.

ChatReview by Nancy Gratton, Heirloom Bookstore, LLC

When a man is found floating, face-down, in the frigid winter waters of a brook outside Brattleboro, Joe Gunther of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation is one of the first called to the scene. In a state so small and sparsely populated, any likely homicide is a relative rarity, and calls for special expertise. This case is no exception. But before he can get his investigation off the ground, Joe is called home by family tragedy: his mother and brother have been injured in a terrible auto accident up in Joe's hometown of Thetford, high up on the New Hampshire border, and it looks like there may be foul play involved in that incident, too. To resolve them both, he has to simultaneously explore the world of internet predators and back-country violence.

Archer Mayor's Joe Gunther series is a one-of-a-kind combination requiring the skills of a skilful crime novelist and a perceptive student of human nature. This sociologically astute author recognizes that he doesn't need to load his protagonist up with a dramatic mass of unresolved angst to get our interest. Instead, he artfully captures the contradictory mix of lifestyle and worldview in the rather idiosyncratic state where he sets his stories.

Mayor's Vermont is one of those places where the modern world may intrude, but it doesn't take up residence very comfortably. The whole state tends to function like an overgrown small town, with everybody knowing everybody else's business, and in such places, sometimes, secrets can be deadly. Mayor deftly juggles the contradictions inherent to a decidedly 21st century state that still has much in common with its turn of the 20th century past, where family ties have not yet broken down and grudges can span generations.

Best of all, Mayor gets it right. He has a true feel for the push-pull of modernization and homespun values. This is especially evident in his villains, who often enough emerge from Vermont's less sophisticated communities, where a person's address is more likely to be a trailer on a hilltop than a fancy mansion in town, and where the meat in the pot for supper is as likely to come from a high-jacked deer as from the supermarket.

So far, the prolific Mayor has given us 18 volumes covering Joe Gunther's adventures (counting Chat), and each one is as worth reading as the last. Beginning with the earliest in the series, Open Season, Mayor has refined and developed the core characters of Gunther's world, and grown ever more sophisticated with every new volume in the series. It doesn't matter where you choose to start in the series - although Chat would certainly be a fine place to begin. Just be prepared to accept the fact that, once you start, you won't be able to stop until you've read them all.



Disposable Man
The Disposable Man

Occam's Razor
Occam's Razor

Marble Mask
The Marble Mask

Tucker Peak
Tucker Peak

Sniper's Wife
The Sniper's Wife


Surrogate Thief
Surrogate Thief

St Albans Fire
St. Albans Fire

Second Mouse
The Second Mouse

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   author's favorite picks on:


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Donna Andrews
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Jane Cleland

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