Joe Gunther's Vermont Bureau of Investigation team is plenty busy trying to solve the grisly murder of Wayne Castine, a suspected child predator who's got mob ties in the area. But Gunther has other pressing, more personal business to attend to: the old case of his girlfriend Lyn Silva's father and brother. Fishermen both, they were once believed to be lost at sea. Until today...
With the Castine investigation in full swing, now is hardly the time for Gunther to go AWOL and join Lyn in Maine. But as more evidence emerges, the less it seems that the Silvas were innocent victims. Turns out they had some involvement with a gang of vicious smugglers-men who will do whatever it takes to keep Lyn and Gunther from finding the truth...and who will kill to keep old secrets buried.
About the Author
Archer Mayor, in addition to being a novelist, is also a death investigator for Vermont's Chief Medical Examiner, a deputy for the Windham County Sheriff's Department, and has served twenty-five years experience as a volunteer firefighter and EMT. The winner of the NEIBA award for Best Fiction, he lives in Newfane, Vermont.
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Willy Kunkle gently removed his one functional hand from the bare back of the woman stretched out beside him and reached for the softly buzzing cell phone on the night table. Unlike Sammie Martens — the woman in question — Willy had been termed a "vigilant sleeper," which sounded like psychobabble to him. He didn't need a shrink to tell him that he slept like shit.
"What?" he asked in a muted growl, noticing the first pale hint of dawn against the window shade.
"That you, Willy?"
It was Ron Klesczewski, chief of detectives of Brattleboro, Vermont, an old colleague of Willy's before he and Sam had left the PD to join the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, a new, statewide major crimes unit. As far as Willy was concerned, Ron was a perfect example of the Peter Principle. Way too touchy-feely for Willy's taste, he'd never have landed the top job if the rest of them hadn't jumped ship.
"Jesus, Ron. Who do you think it is? You called me."
Ron laughed, unfazed. "I'm just used to you yelling into the phone. You sound downright demure."
Willy rolled his eyes, as much at the word choice as at Sam's stirring from all the noise.
"What the hell do you want?"
"You're the VBI on call, according to your dispatch," Ron explained brightly, "and I got something for you."
"You lock your keys in the car again?"
Klesczewski ignored him, slowly enunciating, "Ho-mi-cide."
Willy smiled abruptly, his mood improved as if by the flick of a switch. "Say that again for what's-her-name."
Ron repeated himself as Willy dangled the phone just above Sammie's exposed ear. He was rewarded as her eyes opened wide and she sat up in one fluid motion.
"Who is that?" she mouthed silently.
"Your buddy Ron," Willy said, bringing the phone back to his mouth. "Throwing us a local, at last. What is it, in under a thousand words?" Willy asked Klesczewski.
"Single white male, done in with a knife; unknown assailant," Ron responded, his smile almost audible. He then gave the exact address on Manor Court, off of Canal, between Clark Street and Homestead — a hard-luck neighborhood a stone's throw from downtown. He hung up without further ceremony, having given Willy only precisely what he'd requested.
Willy laughed and closed the phone. "That boy's growing balls."
Sam was already across the room, getting dressed. "A minor miracle, given how much you bust 'em."
The name Manor Court sounded like a mass-produced, 1970s, northeastern development, in the way that Flamingo Estates brought to mind a Florida flophouse of fifty squirrel-sized apartments. In fact, it was neither a development nor a court, and hadn't been touched by a builder's level in 150 years. It was a residual holdover of Brattleboro's nineteenth-century industrial past, when the town cranked out everything from parlor organs to baby carriages and had neighborhoods so clearly class-divided, it felt like some residents required passports for travel.
Manor Court had once been an open-ended street, which — as with some rivers — implied a sense of cleansing circulation. But subsequent traffic engineering had turned it into a J-shaped dead end, a tidal pool of sorts, located in a section of town relatively downtrodden to this day. The dominant architecture was both the famed working-class "triple decker" so much in evidence in a hundred other soot-stained, reinvented, ancient New England towns, and a less definable, two-and-a-half-story structure — often clad in scalloped, gray, pressed-board siding — whose sole distinguishable attribute was that it didn't look like anything more than a roof over four walls of marginal integrity.
The address Ron Klesczewski had offered was one of the former — and therefore of modest historical merit — minus any grace notes of subsequent care or maintenance. In fact, as Willy swung out of the car he and Sammie shared to get there, he wondered if the electrical and phone lines looping in from the nearby utility pole weren't the only modern amenities added over the prior seventy-five years.
Including the paint on the walls.
"You ever been here?" he asked his partner.
Sam was reaching into the back seat to grab a canvas shoulder bag she favored for crime-scene investigations. "Seems like our kind of place, but I don't know for sure."
Willy was standing by the car, studying the structure in the slowly growing dawn. It was peeling, sagging, and gaping where stair and balcony railings had vanished over time. His left hand, as always, was stuffed into his pants pocket — the useless tail end of an arm crippled years ago by a rifle round received in the line of duty. His powerful right hand remained empty. No extra equipment for him, not at this early stage.
"A hanging — about eight years ago."
Sammie pulled her head out of the car. "What?"
"A hanging," he repeated. "That's it. About eight years ago. That's how I know this dump."
She smiled, if just barely. Trust him to remember that — and almost everything else, in fact, except the everyday rules of social conduct. In that way, he reminded her of an idiot savant who could play the concert piano but not read a comic book. The man was a dinosaur — an old-fashioned, old-school cop — a black-and-white man in a colorful world. She loved him for that, among other quirks.
She adjusted her bag and motioned across the street. "Shall we?"
There were already two PD cruisers parked by the curb, along with an unmarked Impala that should have had "cop" stamped on both doors. A couple of patrolmen were stringing crime-scene tape around the building, and a third was loitering by the entrance at the top of the rickety porch steps, clipboard in hand.
A broad smile creased his weather-beaten face as he caught sight of them approaching.
"Oh, oh — watch out. It's the cavalry."
The two of them spoke simultaneously, Sam saying, "Hey, Zippo. How you been?" while Willy responded, "It's the brain trust, asshole, come to save your butt again."
Zippo just laughed, knowing them both well. "Beauty and the Beast. God help us." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder and applied pen to clipboard as he spoke. "Second floor, apartment three."
They filed by, into the fetid embrace of the dark first-floor lobby, stifling even at this early hour. Summer had kicked in at last, following a winter of more snowfall than the region had seen in years. Typically, it had taken barely a week for everyone to switch from enjoying the warmth to complaining about the heat. New Englanders tend to be hardier in the cold than they are in its absence, making Florida as the terminus for so many of them conceptually rational only because of its universal air-conditioning.
"Jesus," Willy groaned. As Sam well knew, the man — despite his marginal manners — was a neat freak at heart, and while he spent most of his time working in these environments, his soul quailed at the squalor.
At the second-floor landing, they were met by a poster boy for the average American male Caucasian.
Sammie walked up to him and gave him a hug. "Ron, it's great to see you. How's the family?"
Ron nodded to Willy over her shoulder. "Hi, guys. Everybody's great. How're you doin', Willy?"
Willy frowned and glanced at the open door of the nearby apartment. "I'm doin'. This the place?"
Ron broke from Sam and bowed slightly at the waist in mock homage. "It is. We've staged down the hall, there. You can get a Tyvek suit and booties and the rest from Phil. I also called the crime lab. Their ETA is maybe another two hours."
Willy's frown deepened. "I'll believe that when I see it. You're making this sound like a whodunit."
Ron nodded. "So far, it is. The dead guy is Wayne Castine, thirty-two. He was stabbed a bunch of times, and maybe shot and beaten, too. It's hard to tell with the blood. It's all over him, and all over the apartment."
"He live here alone?" Sam asked as Willy headed for where Phil was waiting with the crime-scene equipment.
"He didn't live here at all, and the woman who does swears she doesn't know who he is." Ron paused before rephrasing. "Correction — she says she doesn't know Wayne Castine. Making a visual ID on this guy is a little tough right now. She might know him but not his name."
"Do we know her?" Sam asked, in the age-old shorthand for, is she in the computer for any past misbehavior?
"Some speeding tickets," he answered. "Two DUIs over the past two years; a couple of domestics as the victim; a few public disturbances involving alcohol. She's been a person-of-interest in a dozen or more cases, hanging with a tough crowd." He held his hands out to both sides, palms up, in a hapless gesture. "Name's Elisabeth Babbitt — British-style spelling. Calls herself Liz. She's pretty down and out, like everybody else on the block. Only moved here a couple of months ago. Lived in West Bratt before that; Bellows Falls before that; north of Putney in a trailer before that. And that's just the past four years."
Willy returned, awkwardly zipping up his white suit while holding the hat, gloves, and booties, all with one hand. Everyone knew better than to offer to help. Sam took advantage of his approach to get outfitted herself.
"Not to sound obvious," Willy said, having overheard the conversation. "But if the guy's too messed up to recognize, how do you know who he is?"
"Wallet," Ron explained shortly. "It was poking out of his front pants pocket. I could snag it without disturbing anything else. I had dispatch run his license through CAD, and there were enough common traits to make it look pretty likely he's the guy, including a tattoo on his forearm."
Willy pursed his lips but withheld comment, pointing toward the apartment with his chin instead. "She find the body?" he asked.
"Yeah, after a night of barhopping."
"She share the place with anyone?"
Klesczewski shook his head. "Not that you can tell. I didn't get into the nitty-gritty with her — didn't want to trample too much ground ahead of you guys. But I got the feeling she wasn't beyond getting help with the rent the old-fashioned way."
"She's a hooker," Willy restated bluntly, leaning against the rickety railing and pulling on the booties as Sam returned, typically all ready to go.
"Amateur, I'd guess," Ron suggested. "Officially, she works at the grocery store."
Sam asked, "What do we have on Castine?"
"He's a kid diddler," Willy said without looking up.
They both stared at him, taken off guard.
"You know this guy?" Sam asked.
"I know about him," Willy answered her, intent on his task. "We never busted him when we were with the PD, but he was a person-of-interest a dozen times or more — buying booze for kids, crawling around the edge of underage parties, offering rides after school. One of those scumbags you know is dirty, but you can't catch him."
Sam glanced at Ron, who shrugged and said, "He's right. I don't have much to add. He lives in a one-room efficiency on Main Street — or lived, I should say. I have someone sitting on that. He worked as a part-time stacker and loader at one of the lumber companies. I got someone else getting a list of coworkers and buddies there, along with anything that might be interesting." He added carefully, seeing Willy's expression darken, "Nothing too intense. We're not conducting interviews — just collecting data."
Willy laid one latex glove on the railing, wriggled inside of it with four fingers, and finished pulling it on with his teeth. "How screwed up is this scene, with all the pickpocketing and whatever?" he then asked.
Ron was ready for that one. "Babbitt found the body, used the phone to call 911, and then waited right here. The responding officer — Rich Matthews, who deserves a high five as far as I'm concerned — grilled her first for a couple of minutes, and then literally tiptoed in to determine that Castine was really dead and alone. He didn't touch anything; came out the same way he went in; and then sealed the place up. He even took his boots off before he went in."
Willy scowled. "That's weird. He nuts? What if somebody had been hiding in the closet?"
Ron tilted his head to one side. "I know, I know. A little over the top. But he's fresh out of the academy and a little paranoid about scene preservation. I already talked to him. Anyhow, the scene's pretty good."
"Except for you," Willy commented.
"True," Ron admitted. "I suited up to confirm what Rich had seen, mostly because he is new. And along with the wallet, I took some baseline shots. But that's it."
"You call the ME?"
"Him and the state's attorney, but I also told them to hold tight until the crime lab arrived."
Sam reached out and patted her old colleague on the arm. "You did good, Ron. Like always. Thanks."
Willy didn't say anything, but moved to the apartment's door and glanced over his shoulder at his partner. "You ready?"
It wasn't much, Wayne Castine's last resting place. A hallway with a bathroom on one side and the kitchen opposite, leading to a small living room and a bedroom beyond. There were a couple of closets, with nobody in them, and a smattering of mismatched furniture. It wasn't terribly dirty, smelled mostly of cheap soap and makeup, and bragged of an awkward Middle Eastern motif, or maybe South American, consisting of gauzy scarves and odd pieces of fabric draped across the windows and over lamp shades.
Sammie studied Willy as he preceded her slowly down the hall, keeping his feet on the strip of brown butcher paper that Ron had laid out on the floor. She could sense through his body language — as he paused here and there, his latex-clad fingers sometimes extending as in a failed effort to reach out — a desire to absorb what might have happened in this now dull, quiet, otherwise mundane little home.
It was an understandable ambition, since what they could see, in the absence still of any dead body, spoke of grim and relentless violence. On the hallway's floor, smearing the walls and doorjambs, splattered and dripped and swiped as in a child's finger painting, was more blood than either one of them had witnessed in a long while.
Whatever else was left behind from the events of the night just past, certainly the lingering ghost of pure rage loomed large.
And that was before they reached the main attraction.
He was in the small living room, spread-eagled on his back, covered with enough blood to make him look more like a slaughtered carcass than a dead human being.
Even Willy, with his hard-hearted reputation, murmured, "Whoa," at the sight.
"Somebody was pissed," Sammie said quietly.
Willy reached into the pocket of his Tyvek suit and extracted a cell phone.
Sam glanced at him, surprised. He was usually ill-inclined to consult others on a case. "Who're you calling?" she asked.
She was struck by his tone of voice when he answered her. This was a man used to violence, after all. She knew that much from sleeping beside his nightmares.
But his words were somber and reflective as he flipped open the phone. He spoke as a man who'd recognized something beyond the simple impulse of most killings. There was a presence crowding around them here — primal, angry, penned up, and very hot.
It wasn't the kind of thing for even Willy to confront cavalierly.
"I think," he told her, "it's time to wake up the Old Man."
Joe Gunther was not asleep when Willy called from Manor Court. Nor had he been for hours. He was fully dressed, sitting by the window, and in trouble. At least, emotionally. Lyn Silva, the woman he loved, had gone into an introverted tailspin, cutting him out of her life.
And he had brought it about. Not directly — not by anything he'd done — but he had been the bearer of bad news from a recent trip to Maine, concerning her family, and was now paying the price.
"What?" he answered the phone by his side.
Willy was uncharacteristically brought up short. "Boss?"
Joe answered in a more neutral tone. "Hey, Willy. What's up?"
It was an unusual question from this particular man, and Joe immediately sensed Willy's regret at having asked it. He knew him like a son, and had more than once protected him against those who'd wanted to fire him over trying to figure him out.
Joe therefore let him off the hook. "Yeah, fine. Just spilled some coffee. Bad timing."
Willy bought it, or played along. "Losing your grip. Bad sign. Incontinence'll probably be next."
Excerpted from "The Price of Malice"
Copyright © 2009 Archer Mayor.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As another reviewer said, this novel is written using two different plot lines. However, I disagree that it made the novel difficult to read or boring. I loved the way the stories wove back and forth, and Joe Gunther was involved in both areas. I hadn't read the last 3 books in the series, but as someone who used to visit Vermont relatives quite often, I had read every novel in the series throughout the early 2000's. Now it was great to re-connect with the familar set of wonderful characters, which Mayor has continued to keep well fleshed out. There were also some well described new characters among the various possible suspects and their families. It is this ability to create strong characters that makes the Joe Gunther series a step above many other mystery or suspense series. I recommend this whole series, if you can go back and get all the books right from the beginning, the way I was able to do - found the earliest ones in a used paperback book store, as they were hard to find in B&N or other bookstores.
In a wannabe hooker's Brattleboro, Vermont apartment, the battered and shot several times corpse of thirtyish Wayne Castine is found. VBI police detective Joe Gunther leads the investigation by looking into the victim's life. They find strong evidence that Castine was a sociopath with the most condemning allegation being he was a dangerous pedophile. The team also learns that Castine had an apparent lover who has a tweener daughter. At the same he works that case, Joe's girlfriend and teammate Lyn Silva finds out more about her lost at sea father and brother; their boat vanished off the Maine coast. While Joe and the rest of the unit dig into the Castine murder, Lyn digs into her family tragedy as she learns her lobstermen family members might have been murdered by drug traffickers. The two investigations rotate lead with much of the fun is in observing Joe being pulled by both cases, which makes him less effective than usual and somewhat inefficient to the point that his team's loose cannon Kunkle is simply loose. The story line is not quite at taut as a typical Gunther Vermont police procedural. However it is as fast-paced and exciting as any series entry because of the hero's somewhat unproductive balancing act as one inquiry has a host of happy people with Castine's death and the other is personal with Lyn in the middle. Harriet Klausner
Depicting the setting of the hand-to-mouth Brattleboro Vermont neighborhoods in the NorthEastern USA, Mayor's novel succeeds in drawing us along into a gritty small city tarnished by the 21st Century's economic troubles. Characters who are "under-employed" in the city fill the pages of the investigators' notebooks on the murder, and the VBI has become the overseer of the staff assigned to investigate this murder mystery. Archer Mayor throws in a second murder mystery gratis, using Joe Gunther's love interest to pull us into a second raft of evidence and killing in cold blood. The back and forth pacing keeps the pace of the novel lightening fast. Kudos to Mayor for his descriptive, heart-wrenching character portraits, his winning heroes.
This book is essentially two stories in one, apparently to make a novel out of it. One consists of Joe Gunther trying to solve his girlfriend's problems, and it has all of the interest that you might give to a television commercial. The other is the investigation into the murder of a child molester. It's a better story, but the cast of characters is not very appealing or interesting. The two stories do not relate at all, ultimately causing the reader to lose interest.
Mayor never disappoints His writing is crisp, interweaving story lines and characters. Having been a fan from the beginning of the series, I always look forward to reading his books. This one was worth waiting for.