“Paradise City,” by Archer Mayor. Minotaur Books, New York, 2012. 306 pages. $25.99
Archer Mayor lives the stories he tells. The best-selling mystery author from Vermont is also the state medical examiner, an investigator for the sheriff’s department and a longtime firefighter and EMT. Authenticity in storytelling is not one of his problems.
In his newest mystery novel, “Paradise City,” Mayor’s popular protagonist Joe Gunther looks into a spate of burglaries. The leader of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation team quickly realizes that these burglaries are linked to others in Boston. The discovery of a body dumped in Northampton, Mass., prompts Gunther and local police to broaden the investigation. It turns out that illegal immigrants are being trucked into Northampton to break down the stolen jewelry. They use the gems and precious metals to create contemporary pieces sold in high-end shops in Northampton and elsewhere.
Mayor pulls together an interesting assortment of law enforcement officials, criminals and victims to take this mystery to its satisfying conclusion. The bad guys — and there are several — are bad in degrees. And then there is Mina, whose grandmother was murdered during the robbery of her Beacon Hill home. Mina is fiery and driven. She humiliates the Boston detective Jimmy McAuliffe by doing what he should have done — detect. She energizes the Vermont/Massachusetts investigation with her findings. And while she is usually one step ahead of the entire investigative team, her impulsive moves imperil not just her but the whole investigation.
Gunther is still grieving the loss of two lovers, one who was killed and another who agreed that a separation was the right thing to do. Willy, one of his investigators, is also in the throes of emotional hard times. Willy suffers from PTSD and while he loves his wife and baby, he cannot tolerate the typical chaos parenting brings to a household. Willy needs quiet and pristine living conditions. And McAuliffe struggles with being one-upped by Mina. The cast of criminals is revealed, one at a time. They, too, are full of flaws and fatal weaknesses. Mayor’s quirky New England characters balance a somewhat dry plot that takes him a bit of time to develop. Once he fully sets the stage in Northampton, things pick up again.
Archer Mayor is a treat for New Englanders who delight in reading about settings they know. In this book we range from Vermont to Boston to Northampton. Mayor is a skilled writer who brings these colorful locations and characters to life. His own real-life immersion in crimes and their complexities is certainly an asset, but the tedium of real-life procedural investigations can get in the way of the drama and entertainment.
Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in bookstores. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or read her blog at http://www.freefallrae.blogspot.com/ or follow her @RaeAF.