With Joe Gunther and his Vermont Bureau of Investigation team spread thin on assignment everywhere, from the remote dairy county of Northwest Vermont to the slums of Newark, NJ, they're pushed to their absolute limit when a string of serial arsons across the Green Mountain State evolve into the most shocking series of murders the bucolic region has ever known.
About the Author
Archer Mayor is the author of the highly acclaimed Vermont-based series of mystery novels featuring detective Joe Gunther. He is a past winner of the New England Book Award for his body of work, the first time a writer of crime literature has been so honored. He also works as a death investigator, a sheriff's deputy, and a volunteer firefighter and EMT in Vermont.
Tom Taylorson is an Earphones Award-winning narrator and Chicago-based actor with over a decade of stage experience. In that time he also built a voice-over career and now primarily works as a voice actor. Tom is an adjunct faculty member at Columbia College Chicago, teaching voice-over for interactive media.
Read an Excerpt
There are few more frightening discoveries than the odor of something burning in a hay loft. A farmer’s nightmares are full of fire, from a carelessly tossed match, to a spark from a worn electrical wire, to a fluke bolt of lightening. Even the hay itself, if put up too damp and packed too tightly, can spontaneously ignite and bring about disaster. More than one farmer in Bobby’s experience, Calvin Cutts included, wrapped up every day before bed by giving the barn a final fire check. To say that such vigilance smacked of paranoia was to miss the larger point: fire to a farmer was like a diagnosis of cancersurvivable perhaps, but only following a long and crippled struggle, and only if you were lucky.
Bobby had two choices: to investigate and perhaps stifle a problem before it got worse, or to run back to the house, raise the alarm, and get as many people and equipment coming as possible.
Typically, sadly, and unsurprisingly, he yielded to a young man’s faith in his own abilities, and set out to discover what was wrong.
Bobby’s sense of smell led him away from the bales and toward the sealed off, so-called fuel room that Calvin had built as far from any flammable materials as possible. Here was kept the gas and oil and diesel for their machines, locked behind a heavy, wooden door.
He could hear more clearly now, as he approached that door, the hissing sound that had drawn his attention. But as he unhooked the key from a nearby post, and freed the fire extinguisher carefully placed beneath it, he remained convinced of his course of action. It was a closed room; whatever lay within it was contained and could thus be controlled.
Which is when he heard a second sudden hissing, accompanied by a distinct snapbehind himsharp, harsh, like the bite of a rat trap, far across the loft.
He swung around, startledfrightened. He’d been wrong. The noise beyond the door wasn’t all that he’d heard earlier. And this second one, he realized with a sickening feeling, was accompanied by a flickering glow. A second fire had started near where he’d just been.
Bobby Cutts began to sweat.
Distracted now, not thinking clearly, he clung to his initial plan of action. First things first. Ignoring the heat radiating from the lock as he slipped in the key, he twisted back the deadbolt, readied the fire extinguisher, and threw open the door.
The resulting explosion lifted him off his feet and tossed him back like a discarded doll, landing him flat on the floor with a sickening thud to the back of his head. His mouth was bleeding copiously from where the extinguisher had broken several teeth as it flew from his hands.
Dazed and spitting blood, a huge, curling fireball lapping at his feet, Bobby tried scrambling backwards, screaming in pain as he put weight on his shattered right hand. He rolled and crawled away as best he could, the smell of his own burned hair and skin strong in his nostrils. In the distance, at the loft’s far end, he could see a second sheet of flame working its way up the face of the stacked hay bales.
He got to his knees, staggered to his feet, and began stumbling back toward the ladder, his remaining instincts telling him to return below and free as many cows as possible before escaping himself.
It wasn’t easy. His eyes hurt and weren’t focusing properly, he kept losing his balance from a brain hemorrhage he knew nothing about, and as he reached the top of the ladder, the injury to his hand returned like a hot poker. The only saving grace was that he could see anything at all, the hayloft being high-ceilinged enough that the red, glowing smoke stayed above him.
He grabbed the ladder’s upright with his good hand, fumbled for the first rung, and began his descent, hearing the tethered animals starting to get restless.
Halfway down, just clear of the inferno overhead, he stopped for a moment to adjust to the stable’s contrasting gloom. There, hanging by one hand, praying for salvation, he watched in stunned disbelief as all around him, one bright rope of fire, then two, then three, magically appeared on the walls from the ceiling and dropped like fiery snakes to the floor, shooting off in different directions and leaving lines of fire in their wakes, stimulating a loud, startled chorus of bellows from the frightened creatures below him.
The fire spread as if shot from a wand, in defiance of logic or comprehension, racing from one hay pile to another. Bobby tried continuing down. But the cows had panicked in mere seconds, and were now, all sixty of them, struggling and stamping and heaving against their restraints, lowing and roaring as the encircling fire, progressing with supernatural speed, changed from a series of separate flames into the sheer embodiment of heat.
One by one, the animals broke loose. Stampeding without direction, corralled by fire, they began generating a stench of burning flesh in the smoky, scream-filled vortex of swirling, lung-searing air. A broiling wind built up as it passed by the dying boy, the trapdoor directly above him now transformed into a chimney flue. Bobby Cutts clung to his ladder as to the mast of a sinking ship, weeping openly, the fire overhead filling the square opening with the blinding, blood-red heat of a falling sun.
His hair smoking, all feeling gone from his burning body, he gazed between his feet into the twisting shroud of noise and flames and fog of char, no longer aware of the contorting bodies of the dying beasts slamming into his ladder, splintering it apart, and uncaring as he finally toppled into their midst, vanishing beneath a flurry of hooves.
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
“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”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The latest Joe Gunther novel is a mixed read. The rural scenes ring true but a side trip to Newark takes up too much space and is not convincing. The end is melodramatic although it hints Mayor is planning to take Gunther in a new direction. Personally, I feel moving Gunther from Brattleboro and making him a state agent has been a wrong move. The fact he is perpetually near retirement doesn¿t help either. A Korean War vet would be at least 70. Maybe a new series character would be a good move for an author who has written well for a long time but seems to be on the verge of formula.
North of Barrington, Vermont, everyone who knows seventeen years old Bobby Cutts likes him as he is a thoughtful caring person. That is except his girlfriend man-eating tease Marianne Koch, who thinks the do-gooder is pathetic, enjoys seducing him into crazy desire for her, and wants to date other boys. Upset with Marianne¿s latest liplock with another male, Bobby enters the barn, which soon turns into an inferno in which for whatever reason he fails to escape. Bobby and a herd of cows die.................. Vermont Bureau of Investigation Agent Joe Gunther finds the case perplexing as there seems to be no motive.. No one seems to hate the victim or his family in fact everyone speaks highly of the late teen. Yet, someone planned to kill Bobby. The clues lead Joe and his partner Willy Kunkle to Newark, New Jersey where the locals at first cooperate, but eventually tell the New Englanders to go home. Joe knows he has no authority in Jersey, but an arsonist must be stopped before someone else meets a fiery death.................. The sixteenth Vermont police procedural is a terrific refreshing thriller because the women involved either in the investigation (a Newark cop, the arsonist's girlfriend and two disgruntled unhappy farm wives) and Joe¿s girlfriend are incredible characters. The case is complex with obvious motive unknown and the opportunity having to be someone who knew the victim yet no one disliked him. Fans will appreciate Joe¿s latest tale as nothing in his personal life or on the job seems to go right................ Harriet Klausner
As a native Vermonter now living in VA I can connect to the stories written by Archer.. He is an amazing author with specific details, knows what he is writing as he also lives in VT down around where my husband grew up. This is a fast read, thriller to the end...
This was the best of all of Archer Mayor's books. It was a turning point in the story line, that connects all the books.