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
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, Mayorwho was brought up in the US, Canada and Francewas
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
The Joe Gunther detective series began in
1988 with Open
Season, and now includes Borderlines,
of Evil, The
Skeleton's Knee, Fruits
of the Poisonous Tree, The
Dark Root, The
Ragman's Memory, Bellows
Disposable Man, Occam's
Marble Mask, Tucker
Sniper's Wife, Gatekeeper,
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 yearan honor it repeated in 2002 with
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"
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,
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:
of the Poisonous Tree
A Case for Surgical Removal
Mysterious Press Anniversary Anthology
Grand Central Publishing (October
25, 2007) 336 pp.
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.
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.