A New Series: One Minute Reviews of
Books by Vermont Authors
Laura's column "One Minute Reviews" has appeared bi-weekly in Wilmington, Vermont's Deerfield Valley News since 2015. In April 2018, she found that no Vermont periodical consistently reviews all fiction and non-fiction by Vermont authors, so she started a series to fill that void. Published reviews from that series and some earlier reviews of local authors are listed with links to a scan of the printed copy. Reviews still in queue are listed without links until they appear in print.
Joe Gunter and the Buried Lead
Archer Mayor, Bury the Lead: A Joe Gunther Novel. Minotaur Books, 2018.
Joe Gunther and his team – Lester, Sammie and Willy – at the Vermont Bureau of Investigation are called in to investigate the murder of an attractive young woman whose body has been dumped at an access road at the top of Bromley Mountain. An easily-followed trail of evidence leads them to Mick Durocher, who immediately confesses to the crime. It's generally seen as a slam dunk … except the confession is strangely short on details, and the few people who know Mick say he's a sad case but a gentle loner who's incapable, both physically and mentally, of violence. While puzzling over the confession's ramifications, the VBI is suddenly called to investigate an act of vandalism at GreenField Grocers, a mammoth wholesale grocery business in White River Junction. As the vandalism turns into an increasingly horrific series of covert murders, they discover that Mick Durocher once worked there. Is that possibly more than a coincidence? Short handed and deeply concerned because the hospital in which Willy Kunkel is recuperating from an operation has inexplicably been affected by Ebola, the three remaining agents follow leads up and down the state, enmeshed in the complexity of the situation and driven past exhaustion by the urgency of finding the murderer before more innocent GreenField employees die.
As Mayor explains in a brief introduction, his title comes from the journalistic meaning of "lead," (sometimes spelled "lede") which refers to the sentence in an article – usually the first – that sets up its topic and intent. "Burying the lead" in the middle of the story leaves the reader wondering about its potential direction – or, as usual in mystery novels, about the identity of a crime's culprit. The lead in this mystery is so cunningly buried that the conclusion surprises even the most practiced readers of Mayor's series. For what begins as a straightforward investigation of a murder gradually uncovers a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions.
The pleasure of reading this mystery is not limited, however, to hunting for the lead in a welter of complex evidence and late introduction of characters. Mayor's portrayal of Joe Gunther, his hard-working team, and their personal lives provides, as usual, a substantial part of his book's interest. Beyond that pleasure is the portrayal of Vermont vistas, in this case ranging from a ramshackle peckerwood sawmill near Bromley Mountain to the immense headquarters of GreenField Grocers, and from Mick Durocher's squalid trailer to the "rich, rural excess" of the mansion owned by GreenField's founder. The Joe Gunther series, originally deepened by Mayor's intimate knowledge of Brattleboro, has expanded with Gunther's promotion to the VBI into a series deepened by Mayor's intimate knowledge of the whole state. It will surprise none of Mayor's fans that his spot-on observations are interspersed with occasional lyrical moments. One of these finds Gunther standing alone in the VBI office, absorbing not just its unwonted silence but its "lingering aura of industry – as if the air itself were redolent of past arguments, theories, questions, and responses." For 1/125th of a second, we catch sight of a man reflecting on the way the years have made him meld with his career, caught with deep understanding by a writer who, for twenty-nine books, has continued with undiminished skill to bury his leads.