BELLOWS FALLS—Unlike Agatha Christie and other prominent mystery authors, Archer Mayor is interested not in the “whodunit,” but the “whydunit.”
“I’m interested in what motivates people to do what they do, that commonality,” said the Newfane resident and author of the New York Times bestselling Joe Gunther series. He’ll appear this Friday, October 15, for his annual visit to Village Square Booksellers to talk about his 32nd installment, “Marked Man,” as part of Bellows Falls Third Friday.
Mayor’s crime novels have followed the career of Lt. Joe Gunther, formerly of the Brattleboro Police Department every year since 1988. It might seem predictable, but Mayor believes that’s what sells.
Mayor characterizes Joe as a solid guy who serves as a touchstone in every book, but he also uses his stability as a contrast to the unpredictable action that surrounds him.
“Marked Man” takes place a year after the death of philanthropist and millionaire Nathan Lyon from natural causes while under hospice care, when a medical student dissecting his corpse determines that Lyon was strangled, prompting Gunther and his Vermont Bureau of Investigation to launch a murder inquiry. At the time of his death at his sprawling mansion, a 150,000-square-foot converted mill, he was surrounded by his loving, attentive family—or so it seemed at the time.
Gunther travels to Rhode Island to investigate the original source of the money and expose the truth behind this tangled and expanding web of duplicity, greed, and obsession.
The plot might sound like it’s been plucked straight from local newspaper headlines, and that’s because Mayor writes from experience. He works as a Vermont assistant medical examiner and part-time police officer in the Bellows Falls Police Department. He also served for 25 years as a volunteer firefighter/emergency medical technician for Newfane’s fire department.
His work experience has always greatly informed his writing.
“As a death investigator, my job is all problem-solving,” said Mayor, “figuring out how something worked or didn’t work often illuminates the solution.”
All his books, he went on, reflect the current state of civilization and reference real places, real people and real police procedures.
“Where I dip my fountain pen for inspiration is in the inkwell of the world around me,” he said. “My work demands I get inside people’s heads and find the dark and ugly places. I’m a born anthropologist. I find layer on layer on layer of how we live life and deal with our inner demons. The outlet of writing is extraordinarily helpful.”
He sees great division characterizing the current state of civilization.
“I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the element of rancour that seems to be upswelling all around us,” he said.
Current events aren’t necessarily a focus in “Marked Man,” although the setting could be a reminder of the world in quarantine at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I decided I would have the primary action take place under one roof,” he said, a move that was also an homage to Agatha Christie mysteries. “I created an entire family of disparate and cranky people.”
He sees each of his characters as representing a certain part of all of us.
“Gunther is a state of mind—he’s us on a really good day,” he said. “He’s thoughtful, sensitive, a team player and a good listener. But he’s also flawed.”
He surrounded Gunther with whom he calls more realistic human beings like fellow detective Willy Kunkle.
“He helps people because he has integrity but he’s a deeply troubled and burdened individual,” said Mayor. “Is there Joe in me? I’d like to think so. Is there Willy in me? Definitely.”
Mayor has already finished writing his 33rd Joe Gunther novel, which largely takes place in New Hampshire.
For this one, he referenced his law enforcement background, but didn’t go too deep.
“I wanted to touch on the subject (of violent crime) without getting into the unseemly aspects where it looks like I’m enjoying myself,” he said. “Once again, it allowed me into psychological darker states.”
“So, when will Joe Gunther retire? Mayor sees no end to the series yet.
“I’ll never run out of gas because I write about us (human beings),” he said. “There’s nothing about us I don’t find really interesting.”
Archer Mayor will appear to talk about “Marked Man” this Friday, October 15, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Village Square Booksellers. For a Zoom link to watch the event online, visit www.villagesquarebooks.com or call 802-463-9404 to reserve a signed copy of “Marked Man.” Masks are always required at Village Square Booksellers to ensure everyone’s safety.