Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mystery Book Review: The Second Mouse by Archer Mayor

Mysterious ReviewsMysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, has written our review of The Second Mouse by Archer Mayor. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.The Second Mouse by Archer Mayor

The Second Mouse by Archer Mayor
A Joe Gunther Mystery

Mysterious Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-89296-072-8 (0892960728)
ISBN-13: 978-0-89296-072-9 (9780892960729)
Publication Date: October 2006
List Price: $24.99

Synopsis (from the publisher): A legend among Vermont cops, Joe Gunther has solved more local whodunits than a whole squad of detectives. But his latest case takes him and his team off their Brattleboro home turf, forty-two miles west, to chip-on-its-shoulder, blue-collar Bennington.

On the edge of town, 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 Gunther suspects foul play. The house is for sale, after all, and Michelle was its only tenant-one who resisted all efforts to have her evicted. The unsavory landlord is a prime suspect, but is safely equipped with an impressively air-tight alibi.

Now to uncover the truth about the fate of this discarded, all but forgotten woman, Gunther must follow a confusing trail of half leads and mounting crimes. He draws near to a violent and careless trio of criminals, whose leader is hell-bent on making the career move of a lifetime-and willing to step on anyone who might get in his way.

Review: The Second Mouse is Archer Mayor's latest mystery featuring Vermont Bureau of Investigation (VBI) field commander Joe Gunther. Although not strictly his case, Gunther is intrigued by the death of Michelle Fisher whose apparent suicide doesn't quite agree with some inconsistencies found at the scene of her death.

The story alternates between two seemingly unrelated cases. Michelle, whose boyfriend had recently died, was living in the house that legally belonged to his father, a man that desperately wanted her out of his house. Was she so despondent that suicide seemed to be the only answer, or was her death the result of a more sinister act? The other case presents three fascinating, and completely different characters, together leading a life of crime that escalates from simple larceny to murder. Could one or more of them somehow have been involved in Michelle's life, and possibly be the cause of her death?

There is considerable appeal for the reader in trying to determine how these cases are related and will ultimately be resolved. The solution to the mystery surrounding Michelle's death is fairly evident early on, but this in no way lessens the satisfaction of seeing how Gunther connects the cases. "Things have a funny way of working out" he says at the end of the book. If not always according to plan.

Mayor has a spare, clean style of writing. Shortly after arriving at Michelle's house for the first time, Gunther mentally notes that dead bodies "... displayed all the variety that they had in life, but in none of the same ways." And that they were "... capable of a kind of frozen, extraordinarily subtle form of sign language." He then asks himself, "... how many of the dead might have struggled fruitlessly to be heard in life, only to be scrutinized too late by total strangers anxious to see or hear even the slightest twitch or murmur." This is wonderfully perceptive prose, and illustrative of how much of the book is written.

Though The Second Mouse is the 17th mystery for Gunther, Mayor manages to keep the series as fresh as new fallen Vermont snow. It is highly recommended.

Special thanks to Hachette Book Group for providing a copy of The Second Mouse for this review.

Review Copyright © 2006 Hidden Staircase Mystery Books

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