Archive for the ‘Joe Gunther’ Category

TheCompanySheKeptDoug Nielsen and his wife Margie were returning from their winter vacation when they pulled into a scenic overlook in Vermont. However, it wasn’t quite the scenery they imagined when looking up they saw a lifeless body dangling from the metal meshing that was designed to keep the mountain rocks from falling onto the interstate.

Gilbert, Joe Gunther’s cat, was asleep on Joe’s chest, and Joe himself was deep in thought when the phone rang. The first words he heard were “Susan’s dead”, uttered by a stricken Gail Zigman, his former romantic partner and now governor of Vermont. The Susan in question is Susan Raffner, Vermont state senator and Gail’s political advisor, close friend and sidekick. When Joe, as a leader in the Vermont Bureau of Investigation gets a call from the Governor to head up the investigation, he has no choice but to comply regardless of what their past relationship might have been.

It’s old home week for us Joe Gunther fans as he gathers the normal VBI team of Sammie Martens, Willie Kunkle, Lester Spinney and chief medical examiner (and Joe’s current girl friend) Beverly Hillstrom, along with various other law enforcement officers. The problem is that, regardless of all the high tech equipment and analysis, the investigation (which is high profile) is dead in the tracks (pun intended) pretty soon. So Joe gets the idea of having the team plod through all the analysis, interviews and paper, with the exception of Willy Kunkle, a loner by nature, to whom he basically gives carte blanche…as long as he stays under the radar.

As all Joe Gunther mysteries, The Company She Kept has twists and turns. I did not guess the end…but I don’t typically. The characters have developed personalities over the years that readers can count on, and they don’t fail us in this endeavor. I like series in which the characters age and develop and you see that clearly in this book. Willie, always  the rebel and outsider, is softening with the birth of his daughter. Joe has moved on from his first wife’s untimely death from cancer and his break up with Gail. Gail has progressed from real estate agent to gadfly to a politically savvy governor.

There’s not a lot of action in The Company She Kept. It’s enough to satisfy but not overload. There’s not a lot of forensic analysis either. Mayor has produced a more rambling, move slowly type of story. But that’s OK. In an Archer Mayor book it’s the characters that carry the story, not necessarily to murder.

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Here are my 5-star favorite mysteries of 2014.

LongWayHomeThe Long Way Home by Louise Penny – Armand Gamache, former chief inspector of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, is settling into retirement in the idyllic village of Three Pines—but Gamache understands better than most that danger never strays far from home. With the help of friends and chocolate croissants and the protection of the village’s massive pines, Gamache is healing. You might just mistake him and his wife, Reine-Marie, for an ordinary middle-age couple oblivious to the world’s horrors. But Gamache still grapples with a “sin-sick soul”—he can’t forget what lurks just beyond his shelter of trees. It’s his good friend Clara Morrow who breaks his fragile state of peace when she asks for help: Peter, Clara’s husband, is missing. After a year of separation, Peter was scheduled to return home; Clara needs to know why he didn’t.

DarknessDarknessDarkness., Darkness by John Harvey – Diamond Dagger Award–winner Harvey’s 12th and last Charlie Resnick novel. The destruction of an old apartment terrace in the Nottinghamshire village of Bledwell Vale, in England’s coal-mining country, reveals a human skeleton. Dental records identify the remains as those of Jenny Hardwick, missing since 1984. An outspoken advocate for the miners, Jenny was the wife of a scab, one of the men who crossed the picket lines to keep providing for their families. Det. Insp. Catherine Njoroge takes charge of the investigation, and recruits Res­nick who has been working as civilian investigator on cold cases, since he has first-hand experience of the divisive, violent miner’s strike of the mid-1980s.

CopTownCop Town by Karin Slaughter – Gender politics and race relations are front and center in this thriller. It’s 1974 Atlanta, and another policeman has been shot by the man they’re calling the Shooter, yet his partner, Jimmy Lawson, is left physically unharmed but devastated. Jimmy’s sister Maggie, also a cop, is convinced that something is off about Jimmy’s version of events, but getting anyone to listen to her suspicions would only prove futile. After all, women weren’t very welcome on the police force in 1974 and they certainly didn’t investigate serious crimes. When she’s partnered with Kate Murphy, whose pampered background couldn’t be more different from Maggie’s solid blue-collar roots, events begin to escalate, and Kate and Maggie must put everything on the line to stop a ferocious killer.

ProofPositiveProof Positive by Archer Mayor – When Beverly Hillstrom, Vermont’s chief medical examiner and girlfriend of Vermont Bureau of Investigation detective Joe Gunther, asks him to look into the death of her cousin, Ben, how can he refuse? Ben, a Vietnam War Signal Corps photographer and a hoarder, was found crushed to death under a pile from his collection. The cause of death was inconclusive, according to Beverly’s autopsy. When Ben’s estranged ex-wife is found tortured and murdered soon after, Joe’s senses are on high alert.

InvisibleCityInvisible City by Julia Dahl – Rebekah Roberts moved to New York City in the hope of covering important stories as a journalist, but she also wanted to be closer to the mother who abandoned her shortly after she was born to return to her Hasidic Jewish community. When Rebekah is tasked with reporting on the murder of a Hasidic woman, she begins to learn more about the community and how in some respects it exists as a sovereign state within the city. And the NYPD is happy to oblige the community’s customs, including not performing an autopsy on the victim, which might result in the murder remaining unsolved.

ProvidenceRagProvidence Rag by Bruce DeSilva – Inspired by a true story, Providence Rag finds Liam Mulligan, his pal Mason, and the newspaper they both work for at an ethical crossroad. The youngest serial killer in history butchered five of his neighbors before he was old enough to drive. When he was caught eighteen years ago, Rhode Island’s antiquated criminal statutes—never intended for someone like him—required that all juveniles, no matter their crimes, be released at age twenty-one. The killer is still behind bars, serving time for crimes supposedly committed on the inside. That these charges were fabricated is an open secret; but nearly everyone is fine with it—if the monster ever gets out more people will surely die. But Mason is not fine with it. If officials can get away with framing this killer they could do it to anybody

HollowGirlHollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman – In this ninth and final Moe Prager outing, Prager is still grieving the death of his fiancée, who was killed in a car accident for which he feels responsible. He’s awakened by his brother from a drunken sleep; Nancy Lustig, a woman he met 35 years earlier, wants to hire Moe to find her missing 30-year-old daughter, Sloane, who enjoyed brief notoriety a decade earlier as Internet sensation “Hollow Girl,” airing “real life performance art.” Although their relationship has always been tortured, mother and daughter spoke biweekly. Sloane has not called in a month, and when new, more graphically sadistic videos starring a seemingly comatose Sloane start appearing online, Moe gets that uneasy feeling in his “kishka” that something is amiss.

I’ve read a lot of good books this past year. I hope one of them appeals to you.


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When Beverly Hillstrom, Vermont’s chief medical examiner and girlfriend of Vermont ProofPositiveBureau of Investigation detective Joe Gunther, asks him to look into the death of her cousin, Ben, how could he refuse? Ben, a Vietnam War Signal Corps photographer and a hoarder, was found crushed to death under a pile of his collection. The cause of death from Hillstrom’s autopsy was inconclusive. When Ben’s estranged ex-wife is found tortured and murdered soon after, Gunther’s senses are on high alert. As they search Ben’s house, another body is found. The murders coincide with a local exhibit, organized by Hillstrom’s daughter Rachel, of Ben’s photos. Soon, a curator of the exhibit is attacked in her bedroom and the Rachel’s faculty advisor, who assisted in the exhibit, is kidnapped. Gunther surmises that the photos may be at the crux of the killings and Rachel, too, may be in danger. Gunther’s VBI team goes all out to unravel this baffling situation.

Gunther and the regular crew, Sammie Martens, Willy Kunkle and Les Spinney, are back in full force in this absorbing 25th book in the Joe Gunther series, Proof Positive. One of the things I like about this series, is similar to the characters in Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series, these characters age as the books progress. Their personalities and life situations evolve over time. They’re not static as they are, for instance in the Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. I also love the Vermont setting: the mountains, the snow, the forests and rivers. I especially like how he talks about the industrial history of Vermont. I see that as I drive through all of New England, the old factories shuttered.

Mayor has created an interesting, unique set of criminals as well. They match wits very well with the VBI detectives. There is mystery and suspense to satisfy any reader.

I admit that I skipped a few books in the series. I just didn’t get around to reading them (too much other good stuff). However, it still felt like a family reunion. Those unfamiliar with the series will still enjoy Proof Positive immensely. The book stands alone quite nicely. A perfect book for fans of police procedurals, detective fiction and good mystery writing.


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Archer Mayor’s Joe Gunther series is one of those steady series that you look forward to every year or two, as Mayor completes another episode. Having said that, I’m still catching up. I think I have 5 more to go, to be up to date. There are 22 books in the series, so that’s a pretty steep investment of time.

Second Mouse starts out with a dead body that apparently died of natural causes. Joe Gunther, head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation hears the call on his police radio and, being in the neighborhood, stops by. VBI only takes major cases, but he was curious.

Of course the case leaves some questions/doubts in his mind and it eventually falls into his domain. The book is basically two cases that merge into one. Michelle Fisher is the dead body. Her live in boyfriend, Archie, died several months before and his father is trying to evict from the house she and Archie rented from him.

Mel, Ellis and Nancy are three petty thieves. Mel is the brains, Ellis is his cohort and Nancy is his wife. They’ve got a record a mile long. Mel is always full of new schemes, always involving the other two. This time it’s a drug deal.

One of the things that makes a mystery good is identifying with the characters, becoming part of the family, so to speak and Joe Gunther seems like family. I’ve watched him grow, get a girlfriend (and now lose her), change jobs, deal with his brother and parents, the whole bit. Joe’s not philosopical like Moe Prager (Reed Farrel Coleman). He’s more like Steve Carella from Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series; kinda like a close friend.

If you’re looking for a new mystery, a new venue (Vermont) and a new friend, start with Open Season (written in 1988) and keep going. That’s my suggestion.

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