Joe Gunther, a Brattleboro, Vermont, cop, is the head of the new Vermont Bureau of Investigation (VBI), a joint task force charged with statewide responsibility for major crimes. In The Marble Mask, the VBI's first case takes the force north to Stowe, where a 50-year-old corpse has turned up in a crevasse on Mt. Mansfield. Some of the more interesting minor characters in author Archer Mayor's long-running series about the amiable elder sleuth make return appearances here as Joe's teammates--like one-armed Willy, a former wife-beater who's now playing footsie with Sammie Martens, one of Joe's favorite colleagues. When the frozen stiff turns out to be a (formerly) big-time Canadian crime boss named Jean Deschamps, who disappeared after World War II, Joe and his gang cross the border to work with the Mounties, the Sûreté, and the local cops in Sherbrooke, where Deschamps's son Marcel is involved in a turf war with the Hell's Angels and a rival gang of thugs. Old secrets and intrigues come to light while an intricate plan to frame a dying man for a crime half a century old forms an interesting puzzle that's not fully revealed until the last couple of pages.
About 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”.
Read an Excerpt
“Joe. You still there? Talk to me, buddy.”
I didn’t open my eyes. It was so dark I felt if I did, more light might fall out than enter, sapping what little energy I had left. I remembered having the same sensation once as a kid, when my brother Leo and I had hidden in one of my father’s grain boxes in the barn, closed the cover over us and shut out all light and air. Lack of oxygen wasn’t the issue, though-we were out of there, pale and laughing too loudly, long before suffocation became a threat. It was darkness that had defeated us-invasive, all absorbing, reaching in through our wide open eyes to extract whatever was keeping us alive. Squeezing my lids shut had been like hanging onto a cliff edge with my fingertips.
Which paradoxically made me wonder if suffocation could be a problem here, entombed as I was. Certainly I felt sleepy, which I’d heard was one of the signs, but then that counted for cold, too, and God knows I was cold.
“Joe? We need to know if you’re still okay. Give us an indicator at least-hit the transmit button a couple of times if you don’t feel like talking.”
I really didn’t. I was talked out–talking to them, talking to myself. I wasn’t even sure where the radio was anymore. I’d shoved it under my coat when I’d pulled my arms out of the sleeves to turn my parka into a thermal straight jacket and better preserve my body heat. Besides, assuming I could find it, I doubted my fingers could operate the damn thing. That was probably why they’d told me to just hit the transmit button-they were guessing I was almost gone.
I thought about that for a moment, which was no mean feat in itself. My mind had been wandering for hours, easily bringing up images of my parents, life on the farm, Leo, times during combat I’d thought were the coldest a man could endure.
But pondering the here and now was both a challenge and a bore-an impediment to more pleasant things. The vague memory that I hadn’t lost the radio at all, but was still holding it in a numb and senseless hand, barely caused a flicker of concern. I was far too busy leafing through my life’s album, evoking sunny, warm, open places.
And pictures of Gail.
I saw her above me, straddling my hips as I lay on the floor, her eyes narrowed, her mouth open just slightly. There was a faint shimmer of sweat on her upper lip as she raised her arms slowly, smoothly, and stripped off her T-shirt.
“Joe? It’s Willy. Hang in there, pal. You croak, they’ll nail me for sure. Don’t be so goddamned self-centered.”
What a guy, I thought-always the right word at the right time. What must his parents have been like?
I tried retrieving that last image of just seconds ago, remembering only that it had been of something pleasant and warm. I was beginning to feel warm again myself, in fact. At long last.
“Won’t be too much longer,” Willy resumed. “They say the storm’s almost over-at least enough to try another sortie. Give us some kind of signal, though, will you? This playing coy shit is driving me nuts.”
He’d always been an impatient man-always in a hurry and with nowhere to go. Not like Sammie, for example, equally driven but headed straight up the professional ladder.
Gail was ambitious, too, although a lot more complicated-one of the reasons we no longer lived together. Not that the love could be diminished-no matter the test.
I furrowed my brow, or thought I did. Sam and Willy and Gail and I were becoming blurred in my mind. Maybe there were similarities I’d never glimpsed before-he and I sort of stuck in our ways, the two women either using us as anchors, or fighting the pull of our inertia.
Surely there had to be more to it than that.
The radio spoke again, sounding like the last man to enter a noisy, crowded room-too far off to be understood. And I had too much to ponder anyway.
Let it go, I thought. Let me be.
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
Former Brattlesboro police chief Joe Gunther knows that finesse and politeness are critical if the newly formed Vermont Bureau of Investigation (VBI) is to succeed. Joe, being a former town cop, knows that the locals will not appreciate outsiders from the state. As a matter of truth, the VBI has been mired under bureaucratic inertia until the Governor, answering a reporter¿s question, publicly assigns its first case even if the Stowe police chief has not asked for help. The body of Canadian Jean Deschamps has been found frozen on the side of Mt. Mansfield. Someone with surgical skills amputated his feet and an arm, and punctured his heart. To Joe, the victim seems more like a frozen fossil since he has been iced for over five decades. As Joe and his crack team investigate the homicide, he also needs to massage the egos of the local law enforcement team, the Canadian liaison, the media, and the public expectations of the VBI¿s capabilities. At the same time, the threat of gang warfare in Jean¿s home province of Quebec increases the pressure to expeditiously solve the case. The eleventh Gunther mystery is a dramatic change in the star¿s role as he switches from local policing to state law enforcement. The change is smoothly done as Joe¿s inner values and methodology remain the same, but the type of case and the political implications have moved to a higher level. THE MARBLE MASK is a strong police procedural that will excite fans of the series with its fascinating plot that combines a solid investigation with puissant external interests hampering the inquiry. Taking a risk, Archer Mayor continues to be a leading light of the New England regional mystery. Harriet Klausner