Thursday, September 20, 2018

Bury the Lead by Archer Mayor

First Sentence: Joe entered the autopsy room unnoticed, stepped to one side of the broad door, and leaned against the wall to watch.
The body of a young woman is discovered and a confession quickly obtained, but it doesn't take much to determine the confession is false.  However, the man who confessed once worked at a large local warehousing company experiencing serious acts of vandalism, the latest of which resulted in a death.  Is there a connection?  Willie Kunkle, a key member of Joe Gunther's team on the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, is hospitalized as there is a suspicious possible outbreak of Ebola.  Are all these events linked?  That's up to Joe and the VBI to find out.
It is hard for many to image witnessing a real autopsy.  The opening achieves several things beyond taking one through the procedure; one is introduced to Joe, learns about his department and his past, and demonstrates Joe's humanity—"This was always an autopsy's watershed moment for Joe, making the divide between seeing a fellow human as someone's recently lost companion or child and simply discovering—piece by piece—what had one made it function." One also meets Beverly, the pathologist and Joe's lover.  This is nicely done both for new readers, and as a reminder for those who have followed the series.  However, it also provides initial information on the victim and the crime. 
Although Joe is the protagonist, his team is an ensemble about whom series readers have come to care, and that's certainly true of Willie and Sammy.  Each character is fully developed and plays a vital role.  That this extends beyond Joe's team to their families creates a sense of reality, including talking about murder in front of the fridge as do Lester and his wife Sue.  It is through his style that Mayor makes the reader feel invested in, and even part of, the team.  What is especially nice is that the characters change and evolve over time.
One of the many things to be appreciated about Mayor is that he provides explanations, such as what is a Spellman entry, as he goes along.  Even better that is the explanations never slow down the pace of the story.  Something about policing which one rarely considers, is well stated—"Joe found himself in the dreariest corner of human behavior in which his job so routinely deposited him, surrounded by the loss, waste, and malice of others."
It's nice to have a police procedural where the police actually follow procedure.  No cutting corners, no bending the law, no working without notice in other jurisdictions.  It is a credit to Mayor's character of Joe that one really starts to believe there are people such as him in law enforcement.  If only they were much more visible.
As connections are made and a threat is issued, tension increases. Again, it's the details where Mayor shines; the explanations of what happened and what will happen.  The plot is really well done, with enough twists and surprises to keep one thoroughly engaged.  There is an excellent ending and an explanation which sums things up perfectly.
"Bury the Lead" is a very good police procedural with an ensemble cast of characters, a delightfully complicated crime. This is another well-done installment in a terrific series.

BURY THE LEAD (PolProc-Joe Gunther-Vermont-Contemp) – VG
      Mayor, Archer – 29th in series
      Minotaur Books – Sept 2018


  1. I like this series, too. And I agree with you that the characters develop over time. I have to say, I like the Vermont setting. There aren't as many series set in the northern part of New England as there are set elsewhere.

  2. This sounds like something my husband would like!