Paradise City by Archer Mayor is the 23rd mystery in the series featuring Vermont Bureau of Investigations agent Joe Gunther (available October 2, 2012).
When the story opens you find yourself in the middle of a burglary in progress, which is taking place in the wealthy Boston neighborhood of Beacon Hill. The unfortunate victim of the crime catches the thieves in the act, which lands her in the hospital in a coma. Her granddaughter, Mina, distraught over the incident, decides that the police need some help with the investigation and starts to poke her nose into things. Meanwhile, there is another burglary at a wealthy estate in Vermont, which hits the desk of Joe Gunther and his squad at the Vermont Bureau of Investigations. Both cases seem to involve stolen jewelry that is fenced to a powerful, yet unknown buyer. The story also involves an illegal immigrant who is working off her passage to the United States as a jewelry artist under sweatshop conditions.
This book reads as a police procedural, but is so much more. It has memorable characters that are so skillfully drawn they are like none you have ever met. The author’s initial introduction of Willy, one of the agents under Joe’s command at the Vermont Bureau of Investigations, is an example of this.
The familiar shadow of Willy Kunkle emerged from amid a small forest of blinding portable halogen lights. Wiry and short, Willy sported the extra distinction of a crippled left arm—a memento of being shot by a sniper many years ago while on the job. The disturbing visual effect of this was enhanced by his perpetually keeping the useless hand buried in his left pants pocket.
Also, to say that Willy tended toward irascibility was like describing Einstein as above average. The emotional scars of a troubled and violent past were flaunted as if on a dare, utterly disguising a man of integrity, ruthless honesty, and even a jarring, if only occasionally visible, artistic sensibility.
Willy manages to offend most of the people he comes in contact with, and Joe is only able to defuse some of his interactions. Even so, you come to the end of the book and find that Willy is one of your favorite characters, extreme attitude and all. Archer Mayor is not an author who is afraid to draw attention away from his primary character, and he manages to give the reader a glimpse into the lives of the other people who work with and around Joe.
It is clear that Gunther is in charge, but that he would be nothing without the help of his team—a fact that he seems to know all too clearly. His relationship with Willy and Sammie, the agents who work for him but also happen to be in a relationship with each other, goes further than just professional.
Joe was happy to try to keep them together. As dysfunctional as they could each be on occasion, they were in many ways the kids he’d never had, and he’d been among the very few to see the good in their unlikely pairing from the start, when the rest of the world had seen only a mating of fire and gas.
This was my first in the Joe Gunther series and I finished the entire book before I realized that it was the 23rd installment. Had I known beforehand that I was jumping in so late I might have been intimidated. However, going in blind allowed me to read the book without wondering what I was missing. I have to say that the author didn’t make me feel like I was missing anything. You could tell that the characters had a history and that their lives had been intertwined for awhile, but this did not leave me at a disadvantage. I was highly entertained and felt like I was given enough information to understand the relationships and care about the characters. Instead of leaving me wanting, it left me wanting more.
Kerry Hammond has been an avid mystery reader ever since she discovered Nancy Drew at the age of 8. She enjoys all types of stories, from thrillers to cozies to historical mysteries.
See all of Kerry Hammond’s posts on Criminal Element.