(Reviewed by Chuck Barksdale JAN 29, 2009)
JMAN: what do u lik 2 do?
Mandi144: Hang out. Try nu things
JMAN: I lik nu things. Lik wat?
Mandi144: Fool around
JMAN: kool. ASL
Mandi144: 14/f/Vermont – U?
JMAN: kool. 24/m/Mass
JMAN: U dun that a lot?
JMAN: All the way?
Archer Mayor’s Chat is the 18th book in the entertaining Vermont-based police procedural series. In this latest book, Joe Gunther, a likeable and dedicated investigator for the Vermont Bureau of Investigation (VBI), investigates two cases, the automobile accident that injures his mother and his brother Leo along with a couple of murders that may be related to each other. These two investigations provide an interesting and enjoyable book for both new and long time readers of this series.
At first, Leo’s car accident appears to be related to winter weather conditions on a curvy road. However, during a lucid moment while recovering in intensive care in the hospital, Leo tells Joe “It was the car, not the road.” Joe in an informal basis discusses the case with the Windsor County deputy sheriff Rob Barrows. This leads Joe and Rob to look more closely at the car where they find a critical pin is missing and likely the cause of the accident. This leads them to look at the automotive repair shop that Leo uses only to find out it is owned by a relative of someone that Joe had arrested and who later committed suicide after being released from prison.
The other more official investigation, which includes other members of the VBI -- investigators Sammie Martens and Willie Kunkle along with Medical Examiner Beverly Hillstrom, starts with finding an unknown dead man face down in a cold but unfrozen Vermont stream with no noticeable injuries. Soon thereafter, another unknown dead man is found in a Vermont hotel room. As in the first murder, the man does not have any significant injuries, and nothing in the hotel room remains to identify him. While the investigation is ongoing, Archer Mayor is providing the reader with a little more information and clues than the investigators have through excerpts of short online chats between most chapters. These chats at first are somewhat random conversations between young people, but eventually are limited to exchanges between 14 year old Mandi144 and various older men who appear interested in meeting young girls for sex. Eventually, the VBI investigators track down more clues and discover the internet chatting that may be a link to the death of the two men.
As typical of any long term series, the back story is important to this book as well. Concern about the accident to Joe’s family leads Joe’s long term and now ex-girlfriend Gail Zigman to make several visits to the hospital to check on Leo and Joe’s mother. In addition, Lyn Silva, a recent acquaintance of Joe’s, moves to Brattleboro after buying a bar in the area. Lyn’s interest in Joe is definitely a main reason she moves to Brattleboro and a more serious relationship soon starts between Lyn and Joe.
This book primarily takes place in Vermont a state not all that well known to me and probably not to too many others given its low population (49th in the US). I did pull out an atlas to look at the various Vermont towns to get a perspective on where different actions occurred in the state. Much of the book takes place in Brattleboro (south-central Vermont) and Thetford (eastern Vermont about ½ way to Canada). I also found it interesting that a small part of the book takes place in the Main Line area outside Philadelphia not too far from where I live and was characterized very well by the apparently well-traveled Archer Mayor.
Although I’m a fan of police procedurals, I did not know much about Archer Mayor or his series before beginning to read Chat. I certainly missed some references from earlier books in the series but I did check out Archer Mayor’s website before starting which did help. He has a short history about the series and the main characters which provided some helpful perspective on the characters and history of the series. Mayor does explain how Joe Gunter is “arrested in time” as living in the present as a 50-some year old man that also served in Korea. A little more background on Joe’s brother Leo (the butcher) and how his mother raised the two of them is also helpful. Overall, this appears to be a worthwhile series to read and one that is interesting to a new reader even in its 18th book and likely very enjoyable to the faithful long time reader. I certainly plan to go back and read some more!
- Amazon readers rating: from 11 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Chat at author's website
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Open Season (1988)
- Borderlines (1990)
- Scent of Evil (1992)
- The Skeleton's Knee (1993)
- Fruits of the Poisonous Tree (1994)
- The Dark Root (1995)
- The Ragman's Memory (1996)
- Bellows Falls (1997)
- The Disposable Man (1998)
- Occam's Razor (1999)
- The Marble Mask (2000)
- Tucker Peak (2001)
- The Sniper's Wife (2002)
- Gatekeeper (2003)
- The Surrogate Thief (2004)
- St. Albans Fire (2005)
- The Second Mouse (2006)
- Chat (October 2007)
- The Catch (September 2008)
- The Price of Malice (September 2009)
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- Official website for Archer Mayor
- Wired for Books interview with Archer Mayor (2004)
- The Poisoned Pen video interview with Archer Mayor
- Onyx review of The Marble Mask
- Chapter excerpt from The Sniper's Wife
- Whodunnit reivew of The Sniper's Wife
- MyShelf review of The Sniper's Wife
- The Mystery Reader review of The Surrogate Thief
- Whodunnit review of St. Albans Fire
- BlogCritics review of Chat
- The Mystery Site review of Chat
- Chapter Excerpt from The Catch
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About the Author:
Archer Mayor was brought up in the U.S., Canada and France. He is a Yale graduate.
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 was very well received. Prior to that, Mayor 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.
Mayor's first novel, Open Season, was published in 1988, and was the first of his popular Joe Gunther mystery series. Since then, a new novel has been published every year, typically in the fall. Mayor devotes much of the year researching various components of his novel.
He is also a death investigator for Vermont’s Chief Medical Examiner, a deputy for the Windham County Sheriff’s Department, and has 25 years experience as a volunteer firefighter and EMT.
Mayor lives in Newfane, Vermont.