The New York Times
The Surrogate Thief (Joe Gunther Series #15)by Archer Mayor
Brattleboro is the epitome of scenic Vermont. Quaint in its architecture and plainspoken in its politics, it dominates the state's southeast corner as both an employment hub and an election year powerhouse-all while looking like a genteel, postindustrial New England mill town. And yet there is darkness here, too, and nobody knows it better than Joe Gunther. Over
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Brattleboro is the epitome of scenic Vermont. Quaint in its architecture and plainspoken in its politics, it dominates the state's southeast corner as both an employment hub and an election year powerhouse-all while looking like a genteel, postindustrial New England mill town. And yet there is darkness here, too, and nobody knows it better than Joe Gunther. Over the years he has battled drug pushers and corporate swindlers, grappled with environmental conspirators, and foiled gangs and home invaders. But while usually successful in his fight for the town's future, Gunther hasn't always come out on top... Thirty years earlier store owner Klaus Ober-feldt was robbed and beaten senseless. When Klaus died six months later, a case of assault and battery became first degree murder. The guilty man eventually appeared to be a well-known, small-time crook, but enough time had elapsed for him to vanish. Gunther, distracted by his wife's losing struggle with cancer in the same hospital where Klaus was slipping from life, did something that would plague him for the rest of his career: He let the case go cold, burying it in the past along with his private sorrows. Now serendipitously reopened, the Ober-feldt investigation forces Gunther to revisit ancient history and open old wounds. Torn between righting the past and confronting his demons, the veteran cop faces the most personal and dangerous case of his career. For somewhere on the idyllic Brattleboro streets stalks a long-lost murderer who never quite disappeared-and with Joe's renewed interest, now has good reason to kill again...
The New York Times
Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times
“This is the prolific Mayor's most accomplished booka character-driven novel that's enhanced by graceful prose and compelling narrative. Mayor is as good a writer as many on the bestseller lists.”
Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
“Archer Mayor is producing what is consistently the best police-procedural series being written in America.”
The Chicago Tribune
Read an Excerpt
The Surrogate Thief
By Archer Mayor
Mysterious PressCopyright © 2004 Archer Mayor
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDispatch to 0-30."
Officer Paul Kinney unhooked his radio mike and answered, "0-30."
"Domestic disturbance, 63 Vista Estates. Neighbor called it in. Address listed to a Linda Purvis."
Kinney replaced the mike and pulled into a smattering of traffic. It was almost midnight, and, even in a town of thirteen thousand like Brattleboro, it was still Vermont, where phoning people after nine and staying up past eleven remained unusual, even slightly inappropriate, behavior.
Kinney was feeling good. It was summer, two days ago he'd been released by his training officer to patrol on his own, and he was flush with self-confidence. To his thinking, all that remained was to learn the ropes thoroughly with the Bratt PD, establish a reputation, put out some feelers, and pick from a variety of plum federal jobs, from the FBI to Homeland Security to God knows what. He felt poised before a veritable trough of opportunities.
He headed west on Route 9 into West Brattleboro, the main town's smaller offshoot. Given its less urban makeup, West B played host to a choice of trailer parks, from the seriously upscale-expansive, complete with paved roads, car parks, and garages-to the barely solvent, where the odds favored Mother Nature repossessing her own.
Not surprisingly to Kinney, the loftily named Vista Estates fit the latter category.
He wasn't concerned. He didn't know this address specifically, but he judged himself pretty adept at handling domestics. He'd studied his FTO's style-an old-timer who'd been a field training officer for too many years-and, as a result, had mostly learned how not to behave. And even though he'd handled only a couple of domestics on his own, Kinney was convinced of the merits of his technique. People under stress didn't need a friendly ear. They were secretly yearning for the comfort of a little imposed discipline.
Vista Estates was to hell and gone, almost out of town, and proffering neither vistas nor estates. A trailer park whose assets were better known to the tax courts than to any Realtor, it was a threadbare clearing among some roughly opened woods, crisscrossed with narrow, root-tangled dirt lanes and populated with as many empty lots as decaying trailers.
The one thing the park owners had bothered with, Kinney noted gratefully, was numbering the addresses. He found 62/63/64 without much trouble, clustered together, although only after he'd used his flashlight to see better out his side window. Vista Estates had clearly deemed streetlamps a luxury.
Kinney drew abreast of the rough scratch in the dirt serving as a trifurcated driveway, told dispatch of his arrival, and pulled himself free of the car. Before him were two distant trailers and an empty space for a third. The home on the left was blazing with light, its neighbor all but dark, save for a single curtained window.
He drew in a deep breath, both enjoying the cool summer air and preparing himself for the show of command he saw coming, and set off down the driveway.
He considered stopping by the neighbor's first. That was certainly protocol. But instinct and vanity pushed him toward the direct approach. Slipping between the pickup and the small sedan parked out front, without checking their registrations, he climbed the worn wooden steps up to the narrow homemade porch and paused at the thin metal front door.
He certainly sympathized with the neighbor's complaint. There was a knock-down, drag-out screaming match taking place inside, accompanied by the thumping of inner doors and the smashing of crockery.
Kinney passed on simply ringing the bell and removed his flashlight from the slim pocket sewn into his uniform pants.
He used it to smack the door three times.
The immediate silence was like pulling the plug on an overly loud TV set-utter and complete. In its sudden embrace, he felt abruptly and paradoxically defenseless.
The door flew open without warning, revealing a large man with a beard, a T-shirt, and an oversize revolver in his hand pointed at the floor. "You get the hell away from here or she's dead. Got that?"
Kinney felt his stomach give way, along with his bravado. Transfixed by the gun, he imagined himself as the human-size target he so frequently perforated at the range, and could visualize the barrel rising to the level of his eye, an enormous flash of light, and then nothing.
Instead, the door was merely slammed in his face.
"'You get away from here or she's a dead person.' That's all he said. He had a gun."
Ron Klesczewski closed his car door and leaned back against the fender. He rubbed his face with both hands, still chasing the remnants of a deep sleep from his brain, before peering into the wary, almost belligerent expression of the patrolman before him.
"You got the call? I mean, you were the one this guy talked to?" Ron spoke deliberately, hoping to project a calming influence. In fact, being the senior officer here, he felt his own anxieties beginning to roil inside him, a nagging insecurity he'd wrestled with all his life.
"Yeah. It didn't sound like a big deal from dispatch-a routine domestic. I knocked on the door, he opened up, delivered the one-liner, and slammed the door. There was a woman behind him, crying."
Klesczewski took in the tight shooting gloves, custom gun grips, and strained nonchalance and identified a neophyte's attempt to camouflage insecurity with accessories. "She look all right otherwise?"
To his credit, the patrolman became clearly embarrassed. "I guess. I was sort of looking at the gun. That's when I figured I better call for backup."
Klesczewski studied him for a beat before asking, "You okay? Did he point it at you?"
There was a moment's hesitation, as if Ron had asked a trick question. All traces of initial swagger vanished at last in the response. "No. I mean, yeah, I'm all right, but no, he didn't point it at me. It was a little scary, is all. Not what I was expecting. But I'm fine ... And she's fine ... I'm pretty sure ... The woman, I mean."
Brattleboro's police department was known either as a lifer colony, where laid-back older veterans spun out entire careers, or as a turnstile agency, where baby cops hung around just long enough to decide between a flashier law enforcement job elsewhere and getting out.
Ron wondered if the latter option wasn't circling this one's head right now. As it was, he was so new that Ron couldn't remember if his name was Paul or Phil. His name tag just read "P. Kinney."
"How long ago did this start?" he asked him, deciding he looked like a Phil.
Kinney checked his watch. "Maybe half an hour ago." He keyed the mike clipped to the epaulet of his uniform shirt and muttered into his radio, "Jerry? It's Paul. You remember when I called for backup?"
"Twenty-three fifty-three," came the brisk reply.
Okay, Ron thought, so it's Paul. Things better improve from here. "The scene secure?"
Kinney nodded. "Only three sides to worry about. Jerry's covering the west and north. We're on the east, and Henry's got the south. Good thing the trailer park's half empty. Makes life a lot easier."
That last line was delivered with pale, leftover flair. Ron shivered slightly. Even summers in Vermont could get chilly, especially if you were fresh from a warm bed. "You've got more coming, though, right?"
"Oh, sure. The state police are sending a couple. The sheriff, too. I asked Dispatch to get hold of the chief and Billy Manierre, but no luck so far."
"They're both out of town," Ron said with some regret. He was head of a four-man detective squad and the department's only hostage negotiator, both positions that put him closer to the upper brass than to the uniforms chasing taillights-the latter of whom he envied right now.
"You better show me around."
Paul Kinney stumbled over an exposed root as he turned, increasing his awkwardness. "Watch your step," he said needlessly. "It's just around the corner, past that fir tree."
They weren't using flashlights. The moon supplied enough light to see by, and they didn't want to stir up the man in the trailer in case he was looking out.
Kinney lowered his voice as he drew abreast of the tree. "There it is."
Klesczewski peered into the gloom. Looking slightly deflated, like a small grounded blimp needing air, the trailer sat alone in the middle of a narrow hardscrabble yard. To one side of it was a blank rectangle showing where a similar home had once stood. To the other was a second trailer, some twenty feet away, lights blazing from every window. In the distance, a row of trees and a hill blocked off the scene like a set piece on a stage. A swaybacked pickup and a rusty compact were parked next to the home they were interested in.
"Jerry's out behind?" Ron asked, pointing at the trailer.
"Right, and Henry's alongside the other one."
"Why're all the lights on in there? Are the neighbors still inside?"
Kinney answered more emphatically than the question deserved, making Ron think he might have addressed this problem later than he should have. "No, no. We got them out. And I talked to them, too. Got some good information. I guess we forgot about the lights."
"We can turn them off after the tac team gets here," Ron placated him, noticing that the primary trailer had only one lighted window, its curtains drawn. "How did this go down?"
"Neighbors complained," Kinney explained. "Said they were screaming at each other next door and breaking things. That's sure what they were doing when I arrived."
"We know who 'they' are yet?"
"Linda Purvis is the owner of record, and according to the neighbors, the man sounds like her ex, Matthew. That matches the two vehicle registrations and the physical descriptions I got."
Kinney's face turned toward him in the half light, looking blank. "I don't know," he stammered. "I didn't ask."
"So, there may be others in there." It wasn't a question.
"Yeah," the younger man admitted. "I guess so. If it helps," he added, "Dispatch said this wasn't the first time. Purvis is in the computer for prior domestics here, complete with a restraining order issued yesterday."
Which was probably what triggered this, Ron thought. One of the hallmarks of these kinds of situations, taught during his negotiator's training, was the so-called precipitating event. Almost without fail, it was lurking somewhere, usually acting as the proverbial one straw too many. In the worst cases, you got what they called the triple-three cataclysms striking virtually at once, like a freakish planetary alignment.
"You smell liquor on his breath?" he asked.
Kinney nodded. "Big-time."
Such as a drinking binge, Ron thought. He turned away and looked down the rutted road leaving the park. He saw the twinkle of blue strobes approaching in the distance.
"Get on the radio and tell everyone to respond Code Two. I don't want to crank this guy any tighter than he is."
Kinney did as asked, and they both watched the strobes wink out moments later, while the headlights kept bouncing toward them over the uneven ground.
Klesczewski didn't look at Kinney as he continued, "As soon as everyone gets here, I want those smaller tire spike kits quietly placed under both Purvis cars, all other trailers within easy shooting range evacuated, and a perimeter established and sealed."
"Who's the shift commander tonight?" he finally asked.
"Captain Washburn. It was supposed to be Lieutenant Capullo but he's out sick."
Ron looked up at the night sky, dread settling in. That made Washburn top dog for the duration, since the chief and his second in command, Manierre, were out of town. Negotiation by its nature was tough enough, especially when you had as little experience as Ron had. Adding Washburn's built-in animosity for him wasn't going to make it easier.
The only missing stressor now was a gung ho tac team, champing at the bit to turn that trailer into the Alamo. And that much was a given with the team's new leadership-a transplanted Boston cop named Wayne Kazak. Ron smiled at the irony. Now he had his own triple to deal with.
He sighed softly and said, "Okay, let's get the van down here and set up a command post. Better count on this taking a while."
Excerpted from The Surrogate Thief by Archer Mayor Copyright © 2004 by Archer Mayor. Excerpted by permission.
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Craig Johnson, Author, Walt Longmire Mysteries, the basis for A&E’s hit drama “Longmire”
Meet the Author
Archer Mayor is the author of the highly acclaimed Vermont-based series featuring detective Joe Gunther, which the Chicago Tribune describes as “the best police procedurals being written in America.” He is a past winner of the New England Independent Booksellers Association Award for Best Fictionthe first time a writer of crime literature has been so honored. In 2011, Mayor’s 22nd Joe Gunther novel, TAG MAN, earned a place on The New York Times bestseller list for hardback fiction.
Before turning his hand to fiction, Mayor wrote history books, the most notable of which, Southern Timberman: The Legacy of William Buchanan, concerned the lumber and oil business in Louisiana from the 1870s to the 1970s. This book was published in 1988 and very well received; it was republished as a trade paperback in 2009.
Archer Mayor is a death investigator for Vermont’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, a detective for the Windham County Sheriff’s Office, the publisher of his own backlist, a travel writer for AAA, and he travels the Northeast giving speeches and conducting workshops. He has 25 years of experience as a volunteer firefighter/EMT. Mayor was brought up in the US, Canada and France and had been 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. In addition to writing novels and occasional articles, Mayor gives talks and workshops all around the country, including the Bread Loaf Young Writers conference in Middlebury, Vermont, and the Colby College seminar on forensic sciences in Waterville, Maine.
Mayor’s critically-acclaimed series of police novels feature Lt. Joe Gunther of the Brattleboro, Vermont, police department. The books, which have been appearing about once a year since 1988, have been published in five languages (if you count British), and routinely gather high praise from such sources as The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New Yorker, and others, often appearing on their “ten best” yearly lists.
Whereas many writers base their books only on 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”.
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Thirty-two years ago in Brattlesboro, Vermont, rookie police detective watches his beloved wife Ellen slowly dies from cancer. Her lingering ailment negatively impacted his work as evinced by the robbery turned murder of storekeeper Klaus Oberfeldt in which evidence pointed to petty thief Pete Shea; Joe Gunther gave it a half hearted effort, to catch the fleeing Pete, but failed. The case went cold.................... In the present a domestic issue turns ugly when a wife shoots her former husband. Though obviously a local matter, the case comes to Joe¿s attention because the gun used is the same one that killed Klaus. Always feeling that he failed to do his job because of the distraction, Joe, using his leverage as the chief of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, begins an investigation. When he begins he is unaware that the two cases will make him reexamine his past tragedy and the impact it has had on him since including how he relates to his longtime lover, Gail Zigman as she runs for political office.......................... THE SURROGATE THIEF is the best tale in this highly regarded police procedural series. Besides a terrific investigation into two crimes three decades apart, the novel provides a deep look at the demons haunting the hero dating back to Ellen¿s slow death. Fans of Joe will appreciate the insight into Ellen especially her last days and how that still disturbs him. Readers who enjoy an upfront and personal police investigation tale with a powerful gaze at what has motivated the lead investigator to excel over the years will want to read Archer Mayor¿s latest thriller...................................... Harriet Klausner
This novel was an improvement on Gatekeeper, Mayor's last book. However, the solution seemed rather neat and the villian rather colorless. I think the Gunther series has lost a lot of its strength by not having Joe narrate the last few books. Mayor gave him a strong, compassionate voice- sort of a New England Lew Archer. His views of the people he met in his cases are missed.