Book Review: Trace by Archer Mayor


Trace (Joe Gunther #28)

Archer Mayor 

Minotaur Books, 2017

3.5 Stars


Twenty-eight novels into his Joe Gunther series, Archer Mayor decides to give us an audition of sorts in his latest novel Trace. The series hero is gone for most of this novel tending to family leaving his three proteges (Sammy Martens, Les Spinney, and Willy Kunkle) at the Vermont Bureau of Investigations to take on three unique cases. It feels as though Mayor is testing the waters in a way. Will one of these characters end up taking Joe Gunther’s mantle or inspire their own series? This will almost undoubtedly be in the back of the mind of any reader, whether you are new to the series (as I was) or a veteran of it.

You don’t have to be familiar with this series, its eponymous protagonist, or the other characters in it to enjoy the story. Mayor does an excellent job of crafting a standalone story fitting into and augmenting the crime fighting world he has created. As Mayor weaves the cases of each deputy together we get a novel that parcels out drama allowing readers to speculate and actively recall the last scene for each creating more investment than would normally be have by such crime novels.

Part of me is a little annoyed that each of the three cases revolves exclusively around violence done to women. It feels as though there is a bit of victim porn going on here, but this may be due to my own general dislike for the genre. Crime fiction or procedural thrillers rarely reach the level of genuine literature. That is not to say they can’t be enjoyed and well written. Mayor knows his craft and rather than just pump out cliched pulp, he takes his time to flesh out his characters and give us vivid settings. 

Another strength of Mayor’s is the ease with which he presents the deputy investigators as more than just their job. We see these characters struggle with the mundane duties of living as well as with the high stakes of life and death. It gives readers a truer understanding of why a character is by the book or wild or cautious when we see just how stressed they are finding childcare, taking care of their family, or overcoming their own doubts.

For readers of mystery and suspense novels, lovers of crime fiction and procedural stories both in print and on the small screen, Mayor’s Trace will be very satisfying. The prose moves with the confidence and pace of a journeyman author drawing readers in but also allowing them to step away if need be. When you pick the novel back up again, Mayor has created a tone that is as if you never left–details return and you are immediately taken up again in the narrative.

If Mayor is seeing what he can do with characters usually on the periphery of Joe Gunther, then he’s succeeded. Each one of these cases could be their own book suggesting to readers perhaps Sammy, Les, and Willy ought to have exactly that. When the hero of the series does return in the forthcoming novels, readers will know just how talented his lieutenants are.


Author Bio


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.” His 28th book, TRACE, is due September 26, 2017 (Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press). Archer was recently honored with the 2016 Robert B. Parker (aka ‘The Dean of Mystery Writers’) Award and the New England Independent Booksellers Association Award for Best Fiction in 2012 —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. Archer’s love of riding his motorcycle (Yamaha V Star 950) earned him a profile in Rider Magazine in the June 2017 edition.

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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