A pair of tourists gets a horrific surprise when they get out of their car to photograph a scenic Vermont mountainside and find a woman's body hanging from one of the mountain cliffs. The woman has been brutally murdered; her clothes have been ripped open, and the word "dyke"has been carved into her chest. The case becomes even more sensitive and complicated when the victim turns out to be a state senator and a close ally of the state's governor, Gail Zigman.
As long-time fans of this series are well aware, Gail Zigman was once the Significant Other of Joe Gunther, head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation. Gail and Joe have both moved on romantically, but devastated and outraged, the governor demands that Gunther take charge of the investigation personally and that he and the rest of his team at the VBI find the killer--and quickly.
That will be easier said than done. The victim, Susan Raffner, was a long-time activist who had alienated large numbers of people through the years. Was this a hate crime, committed by someone who opposed the senator's sexual orientation, or was this a murder disguised as a hate crime, committed by someone who was angry at Raffner for political or personal reasons?
The investigation is complicated by the fact that the physical evidence is not much help, at least initially, and further by the fact that the victim left hundreds of pages of files and other data that the police will have to sort through, looking for a possible motive. The case attracts a good deal of attention and Gunther and his team are under the gun not only from the governor but from the general public to close the case.
By now, Gunther fully understands the abilities of the members of his team, most of whom have been with him through all twenty-six books in the series, and he deploys them in the most intelligent way possible. Willy Kunkle has always been the loose cannon in the outfit, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Joe basically tells Willy to do his own thing, hoping that Willy's unconventional approach to things might point the way to a solution that might not occur to the team members pursuing a more conventional approach to the investigation. The only problem is that Willy may lead Samantha Martens, his "other half" and the team member that Gunther has assigned to ride general herd on the investigation, over to the Dark Side.
This remains one of the best regional mystery series out there and certainly one of the longest running. Through the years, Archer Mayor has maintained the high quality of the books while weaving together the lives of the cast he has created. He knows Vermont inside and out and the descriptions of the state and of its inhabitants are always very well done. This is another very good addition to the series, even if the ending does feel a bit rushed. Readers coming to the series for the first time, though, will certainly not want to start here. There are plenty of great books in the Joe Gunther saga leading up to this one.