Today I feature Open Season by Archer Mayor as my submission for the Crime Fiction Alphabet 2013. This books is the first in a series, and the main protagonist is Joe Gunther, a police lieutenant in Brattleboro, Vermont. This book was published in 1988, twenty two more books followed, and Two Can Keep a Secret is due out in October 2013.
The complex plot took a while to get moving, which is fine. There is a horrendous crime at the beginning and eventually the crime and related events lead to the re-investigation of a very high profile case. Since the case may have been mishandled, the issue of looking into it again is very sensitive and threatening to a lot of people, on both sides of the law.
The premise was good, but this book did not grab me and keep me interested. Yet the writing and story telling was fine. This series has continued with loyal fans for twenty three books, so I felt I had to allow the author some slack, even in the areas that did not appeal to me. And there were several.
The plot was too dense for me. It was not that it was hard to follow, but it strained my ability to suspend disbelief. One or two weird and extremely damaged people among the victims, relatives and suspects may be believable, three or four is stretching it. Yet the plot is no less credible than a lot of TV or movie thrillers.
Within the scope of this book, there were no characters that I grew to care about. The story is told from Joe Gunther's point of view and thus we only get his knowledge (or what he thinks he knows) about any motivation for the crimes. His co-workers and friends and relatives are better developed but still not enough to get me involved.
Here are the qualities of this book that I did like:
- The picture of small town politics and the relationship between the town officials and the police.
- The narrative voice. I may think the plot too convoluted, but Joe tells his story well and with appeal.
- The themes of connections and relationships. Connections to his girlfriend and his boss, Frank Murphy, a friend and father figure for decades. Relationships with co-workers. I think the author can do a lot more with the relationships in later books.
Thus, I do not want any of my comments to discourage readers from trying this series. You might even want to start at a later book. Reviews I have read indicate that the author does a good job of telling each story in a way that it can stand alone. And a lot of reviews differ with the opinions I have expressed.
And if you have had good experiences reading Archer Mayor books about Joe Gunther, please let me know and give me some suggestions for other books of his to read. I will find more books in this series to try and see if it has become a series I want to follow.
At Mystery*File, a review of Skeleton's Knee
At Jandy's Reading Room, a review of Open Season
At In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, a review of Open Season
At Ted Lehmann's Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms, a review of Tucker Peak
The Crime Fiction Alphabet is sponsored by Mysteries in Paradise. Please visit this post to check out other entries for this letter.