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The Sniper's Wife (Joe Gunther Series #13)

The Sniper's Wife (Joe Gunther Series #13)

3.6 8
by Archer Mayor

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The harrowing call comes from the NYPD. Willy's ex-wife, Mary, has been found dead in her Lower East Side apartment and Willy is asked to identify the body. Torn from his beloved Vermont, Willy returns to the city of his hard-drinking youth with misgivings that deepen when he sees Mary's sad corpse on a gurney. Because of a fresh puncture mark in her arm, the


The harrowing call comes from the NYPD. Willy's ex-wife, Mary, has been found dead in her Lower East Side apartment and Willy is asked to identify the body. Torn from his beloved Vermont, Willy returns to the city of his hard-drinking youth with misgivings that deepen when he sees Mary's sad corpse on a gurney. Because of a fresh puncture mark in her arm, the police think she overdosed. Yet Willy has doubts. Driven by loss and guilt, he searches deeper and deeper into his past, to a long-ago Vietnam where he was a merciless loner known as the Sniper. Soon Willy will answer for his old sins...and live up to his chilling nickname.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[An] intricate, first-rate thriller… Mayor's understanding of human behavior make his tortured protagonist and unforgettable character. His powers of description not confined to Vermont, the author embues well-known and obscure New York neighborhoods with a sparkling sense of place. A riveting plot and exceptional writing will surely enhance Mayor's reputation.”

Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

“Mayor, a master of the slow-paced, relationship-driven, small-town mystery, proved equally capable here of tightening his grip around the neck of the hard-boiled novel but without losing his feel for the subtlety of human interaction.”


Publishers Weekly
This intricate, first-rate thriller delves into the troubled past of Mayor's most complex character, Detective Willy Kunkle, of Joe Gunther's Vermont Bureau of Investigation. When Kunkle learns that his ex-wife Mary overdosed on heroin in Manhattan, he hastens there to identify her body. Suspecting murder, he convinces Ward Ogden, a high-ranking NYPD detective, to reopen the case. In tracing Mary's life in New York, Kunkle revisits his own Manhattan childhood, membership in the NYPD, the trauma of Vietnam and strained relations with his dysfunctional family. When he's arrested during a raid on an illegal club, Joe and Detective Sammie Martens, Kunkle's lover, come to New York, and the two country cops prove they're as astute as their city counterparts. As the plot becomes more convoluted but never confusing Kunkle's quest for Mary's killer parallels Ogden's and Joe's. A harrowing chase through New England leads them all to the defunct Portsmouth Naval Prison in New Hampshire and a heart-stopping finale. Mayor's understanding of human behavior makes his tortured protagonist an unforgettable character. His powers of description not confined to Vermont, the author imbues well-known and obscure New York neighborhoods with a sparkling sense of place. A riveting plot and exceptional writing will surely enhance Mayor's reputation. (Oct. 22) FYI: Mayor's last Joe Gunther mystery was Tucker Peak (Forecasts, Oct. 15, 2001). Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fans of Mayor’s sturdy Brattleboro series (Tucker Peak, 2001, etc.) know Willy Kunkle as the stormy petrel of Joe Gunther’s Vermont Bureau of Investigation. But Mayor’s series hero likes Willy and has always supported him, enduring his quirkiness for the sake of his talent. Now, however, Joe’s loyalty is about to be severely tested. Wild Willy’s own case begins with a phone call that sends him flagrantly AWOL. The call, from a New York cop, informs Willy of the sudden demise of his ex-wife and asks whether he can make his way to the city to identify her body. Willie ID’s her, all right, then proceeds to ID her cause of death as something other than accidental. Turns out the former Mrs. Kunkle was deeply involved in a good many complicated, illegal activities, including blackmail, the enterprise that eventually got her snuffed. Driven by his own peculiar code of honor, Willy mounts an investigation that is both unorthodox and lethal, sending out bad guys in body bags at a pace that does nothing to endear him to local law enforcement. Still, he does solve the case and even gains an insight or two into the mystery of Willy Kunkle. And Joe, accompanied by Detective Sammy Martens, Willy’s patient and understanding lover, arrives in time to extricate him from the NYPD’s tender mercies.

Wild Willy holds the stage well enough, but those sharp, edgy Brattleboro portraits, series mainstays until now, will be missed.

Product Details

Publication date:
Joe Gunther Series , #13
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.59(w) x 8.75(h) x 0.93(d)

Read an Excerpt

Willy Kunkle dipped his large right hand into the sink and scooped a splash of warm water onto his face, washing away the last of the shaving soap. He straightened, used the edge of a towel hanging to the right of the mirror to mop his cheeks and chin with the same hand, and studied his reflection in the harsh fluorescent light.

He wasn’t looking for flaws in his shaving. And, God knows, there was no narcissism taking place. Willy was the first to acknowledge his was a purely functional appearance. He had what was necessary: a nose, two eyes, a mouth, none of it particularly remarkable. As far as it went, it was just a face.

And yet he studied it every morning in the same way, carefully, warily, especially watching the eyes for any deepening of the intensity which even he found disturbing. Had he seen them on somebody else, they were eyes that would have given him pause — eyes which troubled him all the more that they were his. They were what made of the whole truly something to remember, and although he didn’t know it, they were the one feature almost everyone remembered about his face.

His scrutiny drifted lower, again as usual, to his neck, to his collar bones, and finally to his left shoulder and the useless arm below it. He’d been symmetrical once — at the very least that. Now he was someone who carried an arm as an eccentric might perpetually lug around a heavy, stuffed animal.

Except that his burden wasn’t that interesting. It was just an arm, withered, pale, splotchy with poor circulation “something straight out of Dachau but pinned to his otherwise healthy body “put there by a rifle bullet in a police shootout years ago. In fact, the scar marked the dividing line between the alive and the dead of his body the way a ragged and permanent tear identifies where a sleeve has been torn from a shirt.

It did draw attention away from the eyes, though. People overlooked them altogether when describing him as “the cop with one arm.” Which was an advantage, as far as Willy was concerned. He appreciated that a lesser but adequately flamboyant deformity covered for a far more telling one. It suited his personality. And his need. As he’d watched those eyes every morning “those windows into the workings of his head” he’d actually become grateful for the arm. It was his own built-in red herring.

He reached up and turned off the light. Time to go to work.

The visit to Bellevue only aggravated the roiling anxieties Willy was trying so hard to tamp down. Even with a recent and extensive remodeling, the huge hospital and the familiar journey to the morgue reached up like a stifling fog to constrict his throat. As a rookie New York cop so many years before, he’d made this trip a half dozen times, collecting paperwork or dropping things off to help in some busy detective’s investigation. He’d enjoyed being part of something outside a patrolman’s routine, and had found the morgue’s forensic aspects interesting and stimulating: all those racked bodies offering entire biographies to those clever and motivated enough to decipher them. These visits had helped him to believe that although police work at the bottom of the ladder left something to be desired, the promises it held justified sticking it out for the long run.

Of course, that was before he’d drowned all such thinking in the bottom of a bottle.

The white coated attendant greeted him at the reception area with little more than a grunt and he followed him down a long, windowless, antiseptically white hallway, through a pair of double doors. There they entered a huge enhancement of Willy Kunkle’s memory of the place: a tall room, shimmering with fluorescence, and equipped with two opposing walls of floor-to-ceiling, square, shiny steel doors. The sight of it made him stop in his tracks, struck by the image of a warehouse full of high-end dormitory refrigerators, stacked and ready for shipment, gleaming and new.

The attendant glanced over his shoulder. “You are all right?” he asked in broken English.

Willy sensed the man’s concern was more self-interested than any display of sensitivity. He didn’t want to deal with a hysterical next-of-kin and miss more than he already had of the television program he’d been enjoying out front.

“Yeah.” Kunkle joined him almost halfway down the towering row of cold cubicles.

The attendant consulted the clipboard in his hand one last time and pulled open the drawer directly before him with one powerful, practiced gesture. Like a ghost appearing through a solid barrier, the white-draped, shape of a supine woman suddenly materialized between them, hovering as if suspended in mid-air.

The attendant flipped back the sheet from the body’s face. “This is her?” Willy watched the other man’s face for a moment, looking for anything beside boredom. He thought he might be Indian, but in truth, he had no idea. He’d recently heard that 40% of New York’s population was foreign born, now as in 1910.

The man scowled at him, suspicious of Willy’s expression. “You see?” Willy dropped his eyes to the woman floating by his waist, looking down at her as if she were asleep on the berth of a spaceship, and they were about to share a voyage to eternity.

He studied her features, feeling as cold as she seemed, his heart as still as hers. A numbness filled him from his feet to his head, as if he were a vessel into which ice water had been poured.

Romantics would have the dead appear as marble or snow sculptures. In fact, the reality was far less remote and pleasant. Whatever blemishes the deceased once had were enhanced by death’s yellow cast, and the tiny amount of shapeliness the musculature had maintained even in sleep was lacking, allowing the cheeks to pull back the smallest bit, and the entire face to strain against the boniness of the skull beneath. This was truly a corpse, and little else.

He reached out slowly, but stopped short of touching her, struck by the vitality of his large, powerful right hand next to her drained, thin, mottled face, the same face he’d reduced to tears a dozen times over. She looked tired, as if the sleep she was engaged in now was of no use to her whatsoever. For some reason, that made him saddest of all. Surely, she’d wished for some peace and quiet when she’d opted for this state. It almost broke his heart to think she hadn’t been successful.

The attendant sighed. “It is Mary Kunkle?”

He’d butchered the last name. Willy glanced down the length of her shrouded body and noticed a toe tag ludicrously sticking out from under the far end of the sheet. It made her seem as if she were for sale.

He moved down to read the tag. It had her name and an address in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, just south of the Williamsburg Bridge.

That small detail triggered the dormant analytical part of his brain and made him lift the sheet off her left arm. The detective on the phone had said she’d died of an overdose, and there, as stark evidence, was not only the single fresh wound of a needle mark in the pale, skinny crook of her arm, but ancient signs of similar abuse clustered about it like memories refusing to disappear.

“Yes, that’s her,” he finally answered, stepping back, allowing the attendant to flip the sheet back over Mary’s face with all the detached flair of a custodian covering a sofa.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
“I once asked my wife who her favorite mystery author was and she said Archer Mayor… I’m not sure our marriage has recovered.”

—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 Fiction—the 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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Sniper's Wife (Joe Gunther Series #13) 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Of all the Joe Gunther series, this one is right there at the top. It does not matter that Joe is only a peripheral character. It is simply an outstanding read.superb character development is mixed with a gripping mystery.
harstan More than 1 year ago
The NYPD informs Vermont Bureau of Investigation Detective Willy Kunkle that his ex-wife Mary died from an overdose of heroin in Manhattan. Willy drops everything to go to New York City to identify the body. However, instead of agreeing that an accident occurred, Willy concludes someone murdered his former spouse and persuades Detective Ward Ogden of his belief. Willy investigates Mary's Manhattan life by starting with a visit to the old neighborhood where he grew up too. He thinks back on his time working as a cop for NYPD and his estranged relationship with his family while causing havoc with his inquiries. His lover Detective Sammie Martens and his boss Joe Gunther travel down from the Green Mountain State to help in the investigation that seemingly supports Kunkle¿s belief that Mary was murdered Willy intends to dispatch his own personal brand of justice. THE SNIPER¿S WIFE is a powerful police procedural not so much because of the three seemingly separate parallel investigations, but on account of the deep insight into what makes Willy what he is today. The story line places Willy in New York neighborhoods that never grace a novel yet they provide fathoms and intensity to the key protagonist so that the audience feels the beat of the locale grasping what Willy remembers from his days residing there. The murder mystery is well done with the investigations taking the audience from NYC to New Hampshire, but this strong novel belongs to Willy and the Big Apple as Archer Mayor shows his comfort level stretches way beyond the green hills of Vermont into the urban forest of the City. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
With the location being New York city not Vermont, the author still maintained the complex interaction with the characters that had me hooked and could not stop reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you have been reading the Joe Gunther series, then you know Willy. In this one you really get to know and love him more. Always a complicated personality, wouldn't you do the same, or want to, in the situation in this story?!
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