“Bury the Lead” by Archer Mayor is book twenty-nine in the Joe Gunther series, and the series is as compelling as ever. A new reader can enjoy this book because while the characters are the same, Mayor provides quick background comments within the context of the storyline to fill in anything from the previous books that a new reader might need.
Right from the start Mayor sets out to create mystery. In a note he admits that things are not what they seem, and implores readers to stay the course.
“Appearances can be deceiving. My lead may indeed be buried, for good reason.” That suggests a complicated and intriguing mystery within a mystery.
The story opens as Joe Gunther of the V.B.I. enters the autopsy room; a young woman had been found dead through “unknown misadventure.” Her clothes are wrong for a mountainous hiking trail in the dark of night, and she was pregnant. The team tracks down a suspect, who, to everyone’s surprise, confesses. This is just too easy, and things just do not fit. The question remains, who really killed her?
Different crimes and several story lines run simultaneously, just as one would expect to find in real life. One conspicuous problem is finding the motive behind detailed, complex, but unrelated crimes that are inexplicably tied together. “We’re talking Shakespearean tragedy here. Love– hate, privilege run amok, zero impulse control.” Things are hidden, but little by little, clues come to the surface, and eventually a very different picture comes into focus. As Joe comments, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
Joe Gunther and all the familiar characters are here, working together. There is a small town feel to dialogue. Everyone is friends, everyone knows each other, and as they catch up with each other, readers catch up as well. They get first jobs; they get new jobs. We get to know them, and discern how they feel about jobs, life, crime, and each other.
Mayor develops a sense of place so accurate that when the team goes somewhere in Vermont, readers can follow along on Goggle maps. When the story takes someone down route 30, readers can go along. When Joe visits the Department of Transportation truck depot between Brattleboro and Putney on Route 5, there it is on Google Maps, the semicircle of truck-sized sheds and the Connecticut River.
Mayor constructs a story around people who are compelling, captivating, and charismatic. Joe simply loves what he does. Any of characters could change the world for the better, or have a lasting impact upon society’s behavior. They do good work, have a positive influence, and are of use to people in need. There is always a laugh or two along the way, even in dire circumstances.
I received a copy of “Bury the Lead” from Archer Mayor, St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books, and NetGalley. I loved this book as I have loved every book in the series. Mayor does not just drop familiar characters into a formula plot. Each character grows, changes, and develops in every book, just as if they were living right down the street. Get out your Google maps and visit Vermont along with Joe and the crew.