This is another very entertaining entry in Archer Mayor’s long-running series featuring Joe Gunther, the head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation. It’s also somewhat unique in that Gunther himself plays only a small, supporting role in the investigations that make up the book’s crime stories.
As the book opens, Gunther’s elderly mother is suddenly taken seriously ill. She has a rare malady that requires that she be transferred for treatment to a facility in St. Louis, Missouri. Joe accompanies her and so will be missing in action until she recovers. He names Detective Sammie Martens to run the unit in his absence.
No sooner does this happen than the VBI is suddenly challenged by three unique and complex investigations—one for each member of the team that Joe has left in place. One falls to the troubled Willy Kunkle when a small girl discovers three broken teeth near a railroad track in Windsor, Vermont. Near the teeth is an electronic device of some sort which has been badly burned. Are the teeth and the device connected? Does either discovery mean anything of consequence? Is there any criminal activity involved?
Willy’s curiosity is aroused and so he begins poking into the matter in his own inimitable way, meaning that he will work the case alone and that he will keep his supervisor—in this case his wife, Sammie, rather than Joe Gunther—largely in the dark until he gets a handle on the investigation. Also, his methods may not be strictly kosher, but in the end the trail leads him to a potentially dangerous situation that may involve terrorists.
Meanwhile, in addition to commanding the squad, Sammie winds up with a murder case to handle. A young woman was beaten and killed by an intruder in her apartment. The woman’s roommate smacked the assailant with a frying pan and drove him off, but the case assumes additional importance because the surviving young woman is the daughter of Beverly Hillstrom, the state medical examiner, and Joe Gunther’s current girlfriend. It’s unclear if the attack was random or if the victim was targeted deliberately, but Sammie will have her hands full trying to sort it all out.
Finally, Lester Spinney, the third of Joe’s subordinates, inherits a cold case that’s suddenly not so cold any more. Two years earlier, a state trooper pulled a man over on a stretch of deserted road. A few minutes later, both men were dead, apparently having shot each other. It’s impossible to say how or why this happened, but the case seemed open and shut, and the world has moved on. But now a technician in the crime lab has taken a second look at the fingerprints on the gun belonging to the civilian involved and has found a strange anomaly. Maybe the case wasn’t so open and shut after all, and Spinney will have to move very delicately if he’s to get at the truth of what happened that night without ruffling a lot of feathers.
Mayor moves seamlessly among the three stories, each of which is fascinating in its own way. By now, the cast of characters in this series feels like a group of old friends and it’s fun to see what happens when Mayor turns them loose without the assistance of Joe Gunther. A very good addition to the series.