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Murder in Vermont.
who is Joe Gunther?
Editor, journalist, but now mostly fiction writer, Archer Mayor takes us to his native Vermont with his famous mystery series.
Mostly set in Brattleboro, Vermont, this series follows the investigation of Joe Gunther, a Korean War veteran, a widower, and—before anything else—a police officer with 30 years of experience who eventually become the head of the (fictitious) Vermont Bureau of Investigation (VBI).
Joe Gunther Books in Order:
Every book in the Joe Gunther series works as a standalone story, but the lives of the different characters evolve from one novel to the other.
- Open Season – Lt. Joe Gunther of the Brattleboro, Vermont police force has a serious problem: in a community where a decade could pass without a single murder, the body count is suddenly mounting. Innocent citizens are being killed—and others set up—seemingly orchestrated by a mysterious ski-masked man. Signs suggest that a three-year-old murder trial might lie at the heart of things, but it’s a case that many in the department would prefer to remain closed. A man of quiet integrity, Lt. Gunther knows that he must pursue the case to its conclusion.
- Borderlines – Lt. Joe Gunther is in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom investigating a minor embezzling case. It’s a pleasant distraction, and a chance to reconnect with old friends, but when a house fire reveals itself to be arson, compounded by murder, Gunther can’t help but investigate. Suddenly, he finds himself enmeshed in a web of animosity between put-upon townspeople, the state police, angry parents, and members of a reclusive sect.
- Scent of Evil – When the body of a fast-living young stockbroker is found in a shallow grave, suspicion first falls on a cuckolded policeman. Lt. Joe Gunther investigates the increasingly bizarre details of the crime but finds that he’s too far behind events to prevent a second murder. Indeed, whoever is responsible always seems to be a few steps ahead, as if there’s a leak on the force. Sweltering August heat does nothing to calm the increasingly agitated town selectmen, who demand results.
- The Skeleton’s Knee – When a reclusive market gardener’s death proves to stem from a 20-year-old bullet wound, Lt. Joe Gunther is presented with a very cold homicide to solve. But who was the victim exactly? A deeply private man eking out an ascetic existence from a hardscrabble mountain field, Abraham Fuller was virtually unknown to his neighbors, in the manner of someone pursuing more than mere solitude. The discovery of a duffle of unmarked bills and a body buried in the garden patch suggests that Fuller had motives beyond misanthropy.
- Fruits of the Poisonous Tree – Gail Zigman, town selectwoman and Joe Gunther’s companion of many years, is raped, and the detective finds himself caught between the media, local politicians, and a network of well-meaning victims’ rights advocates as he tries to put his own feelings aside and follow the trail of evidence. Every lead seems to point to a single, obvious suspect, but is the evidence too perfect?
- The Dark Root – A brutal home invasion shocks Brattleboro’s small Asian community, but no one’s talking. Undeterred, Joe Gunther digs deeper and discovers a cross-border smuggling route carrying drugs, contraband, and illegal aliens into and out of Canada. Operating below the radar for years, competition between underworld rivals is bringing it into the light with deadly consequences. International jurisdiction is a complicated thing, and Gunther will have to collaborate with the FBI, the Border Patrol, and the Mounties in the pursuit of justice.
- The Ragman’s Memory – A small girl brings Joe Gunther a bird’s nest—made partially of human hair. In the search to put a body, and an identity, to the hair’s owner, Joe comes upon an unexplained death, a grisly murder, and a sudden disappearance. All seem to be entangled in a puzzling web of municipal corruption, blackmail, and industrial espionage. A shell-shocked World War II vet nicknamed “The Ragman” may hold the key to it all, if Joe can get him to talk before the murderer strikes again.
- Bellows Falls – Joe Gunther is seconded to the neighboring town of Bellows Falls to investigate harassment allegations against a fellow officer. What begins as a seemingly open-and-shut case comes to look more and more like a frame job as Gunther doggedly pursues the truth, and soon he finds himself feeling around the edges of a statewide drug distribution network.
- The Disposable Man – When a local quarry yields up a garroted body with bad dental work and toes tattooed in Cyrillic, Joe Gunther figures it for a Russian mafia killing, rare as that might be in Vermont. But it’s so very… tidy. So very… professional. Then the CIA calls, inviting Gunther down to Washington for some friendly “assistance” with his case. Suddenly he‘s caught up in a shadowy game of cross and double-cross and Gunther soon realizes that he’s a pawn that both sides are willing to sacrifice.
- Occam’s Razor – The body was positioned so that the train neatly obliterated its head and hands. Dressed in a homeless man’s clothes with empty pockets, it might easily be passed off as an unfortunate John Doe. And yet… Joe Gunther has a knack for knowing when things don’t quite add up, and the math in this case is all kinds of wrong. Add a toxic waste dumping scheme, a stabbing, and a whole lot of state politics… if Occam’s razor were applied to Gunther’s caseload, how many incisions would it make?
- The Marble Mask – Joe Gunther 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.
- Tucker Peak – An overworked sheriff and a string of condo burglaries at a luxurious ski resort have Lt. Joe Gunther and the newly-minted Vermont Bureau of Investigation digging deep for clues. But it doesn’t take long for Joe to find the most likely thief missing and his girlfriend dead. As the complications mount, from drug dealing to environmental terrorism to attempted murder, Joe and his team go undercover to infiltrate the closed society of a one-company town, populated by bored millionaires and supported by a small legion of resort employees, not all of whom are what they seem.
- The Sniper’s Wife – 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 on her arm, the police think she overdosed. Yet Willy has doubts.
- Gatekeeper – Joe Gunther vows to stop the flow of drugs into his beloved state when in the course of a week a young heroin addict is gunned down while trying to rob a convenience store, a narcotics dealer is found hanging from a bridge, and the granddaughter of political bigwigs dies of an overdose.
- The Surrogate Thief – Shamefacedly hiding the rookie inexperience that rendered a homicide case from the beginning of his career unsolvable, Joe Gunther discovers the case’s murder weapon and begins tracking a killer who possesses a nature more brutal than anticipated.
- St. Albans Fire – With Joe Gunther and his Vermont Bureau of Investigation team spread thin on assignment everywhere, 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 in the bucolic region has ever known.
- The Second Mouse – On the edge of town, Joe Gunther encounters the lifeless body of Michelle Fisher. Her corpse, pale and seemingly at peace, offers him no clues about who she was or how she died. There are no signs of violence, no disorder. Snapshots and postcards show a woman who laughed hard and lived harder. Yet diaries reveal a rootless life marred by depression and drink. Suicide seems a reasonable conclusion, but Joe Gunther suspects foul play.
- Chat – When an unidentified body is found in the peaceful town of Brattleboro, local police and the Vermont Bureau of Investigation both appear at the scene. But before investigator Joe Gunther can begin to gather evidence of murder, a family emergency sends him to his hometown, where the lives of his mother and brother have suddenly been threatened. Gunther reaches out to a network of police officers who know him only by name and reputation as he attempts to discover the source of this imminent danger.
- The Catch – Joe Gunther gets the call that every law enforcement person hates and every friend and family member of a policeman fears — a cop has been shot and killed. A deputy sheriff was shot to death during a routine traffic stop on a dark country road. From what can be seen on the cruiser’s tape recorder of the killers, it is believed that they were a couple of Boston-based drug runners who had been stopped by the deputy on their way from Canada down to Boston.
- The Price of Malice – Wayne Castine was found brutally murdered and the murderer remains at large. Castine, a suspected child predator, was killed in Brattleboro where he was involved with a tangled network of an extended family living in a local trailer park. Any member of the clan would have had the opportunity to kill him, and, as he was involved with both the mother and her 12-year-old daughter, reason to commit the murder.
- Red Herring – Joe Gunther and his team are called in to investigate a series of violent deaths that appear unrelated until telltale clues reveal a linkage between them and that all of the deaths are, in fact, murders. However, apart from a single drop of unexplained blood left at each crime scene, there are no obvious connections between the victims or the cases.
- Tag Man – Across Brattleboro, rich people are waking up in their high security, alarm-equipped homes to find a Post-it note stuck to their bedside tables reading, “You’re it.” There is little sign of disturbance anywhere, nothing stolen (that anyone admits,) and only a bit of expensive food eaten as a signature. The Press loves the story and dubs the burglar the Tag Man. But who is he? Joe Gunther leads his VBI team to untangle the many conflicting pieces of evidence, while the burglar himself struggles for survival in the no-man’s-land between the police and the villains.
- Paradise City – Joe Gunther and his team are alerted to a string of unrelated burglaries across Vermont. Someone, in addition to flat screens, computers, and stereos, has also been stealing antiques and jewelry. Meanwhile, in Boston, an elderly woman surprises some thieves in her Beacon Hill home and is viciously murdered. The Boston police find that not only is the loot similar to what’s being stolen in Vermont, but it may have the same destination.
- Three Can Keep a Secret – When an old gravesite exposes a coffin filled with rocks instead of the expected remains, and a retired state politician turns up dead, Joe Gunther and his team follow the evidence to an escaped mental patient who holds the key to solving both cases.
- Proof Positive – Ben Kendall was a troubled man. Coming back from Vietnam with PTSD and scars that no one else could see, he hid away from the world, filling his house with an ever-increasing amount of stuff, until finally the piles collapsed and he was found dead, crushed beneath his own belongings. But what at first glance looks to be the tragic accidental death of a hoarder may be something much more. Ben’s cousin, medical examiner Beverly Hillstrom, unsettled by the circumstances of his death, alerts Joe Gunther.
- The Company She Kept – During the height of a harsh Vermont winter, the body of a woman is found hanging from the steel-mesh retaining net lining the cliffs along the interstate. She was brutally murdered, with the word “dyke” carved into her chest. She was also a state senator and best friend and ally of the current governor, Gail Zigman. At Zigman’s personal request, Joe Gunther and his Vermont Bureau of Investigation team agree to help the Vermont State Police in their investigation.
- Presumption of Guilt – A forty-year-old skeleton is found encased in a concrete slab at a recently decommissioned nuclear energy site. It becomes a case for Joe Gunther and his team. The victim was Hank Mitchell, and Gunther must chase down old rumors and speculations—who benefited from his death and the disappearance of his body? And was his death somehow tied to New York City mafia money being laundered through the construction project?
- Bury the Lead – When the body of a young woman is found near a trail at a popular ski mountain, the case falls to Joe Gunther and his team. They quickly have a suspect, Mick Durocher, and a confession, but not everyone on the team is convinced. Despite Mick’s ready admission, investigators quickly sense there might be more going on than is immediately apparent. At the same time, a large local business is being targeted with escalating acts of vandalism resulting in loss of life.
- Crosscut: A Joe Gunther Short Story – The previously unexplored history of VBI Detective Sammie Martens. The story of how Sammie first met Joe Gunther and Willie Kunkel.
- Bomber’s Moon – Gunther and the VBI set about solving the murders of a small-town drug dealer, a smart, engaging, fatally flawed thief, and the tangled, political, increasingly dark goings-on at a prestigious prep school. Sally Kravitz and Rachel Reiling, an investigative reporter and a private investigator, combine their talents and resources to go where the police cannot, from working undercover at Thorndike Academy, to having clandestine meetings with criminals for their insider’s knowledge of Vermont’s unexpectedly illicit underbelly.
- The Orphan’s Guilt – John Rust is arrested for drunk driving by a Vermont state trooper. Looking to find mitigating circumstances, John’s lawyer hires private eye Sally Kravitz to look into the recent death of John’s younger brother, purportedly from a childhood brain injury years earlier. But what was the nature of that injury, and might its mechanism point more to murder than to natural causes? That debate brings in Joe Gunther and his team.
- Marked Man – A year ago, local philanthropist and millionaire Nathan Lyon died a natural death in his sprawling mansion, a 150,000 square foot converted mill, surrounded by his loving, attentive family. Or so it seemed at the time. Now Joe Gunther and his Vermont Bureau of Investigation team has discovered that almost nothing about that story was true. Nathan Lyon was actually Nick Bianchi from Providence, Rhode Island. His money came from Mafia-tainted sources. And his family now seems to be dying themselves and their deaths are now revealed to be murders.
- Fall Guy – A high-end stolen car is discovered in Vermont. A car filled with stolen items from a far-flung two-stage burglary spree. But it’s what is in the trunk that brings Joe Gunther and his team from the Vermont Bureau of Investigation. In the trunk is the body of the burglar in question – one Don Kalfus. Complicating matters, while the body was found in Vermont, it appears he was probably killed in the next state over, New Hampshire.
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