Sunday, July 14, 2013

O is for Open Season by Archer Mayor


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.

Open Season is a serviceable police procedural. The forensics are attended to and play a big part in identifying and locating the culprit. I like forensics to feature strongly in police procedurals. The members of the police force are believable, not heroes, but most are trying to do there best. With in-fighting and rivalries and disputes between the upper and lower echelons.

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.
I also liked the setting, even though it contributes to the problems of credibility.  Brattleboro, Vermont is a small town and there cannot be a lot of crime, and especially complex murder plots, going on there. But, I know nothing about Vermont and I want to know more. At this post at www.npr.org, we get a nice picture of Brattleboro and Mayor's use of it in his 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.

Here are some other reviews of various books in the series:
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.

18 comments:

  1. I may check this author our. I am a sucker for series that are quite long. :)

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    1. Scott, I bet you would enjoy them. I will try some more myself.

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  2. TracyK.: As I started to read the title I thought it was going to be for a book I considered for "O". Another Open Season is the also the first title in a long series. C.J. Box began the Joe Pickett series with his own Open Season. I am surprised two American crime fiction books would be published under the same name so close together.

    Recently I had the same experience of a decent book that I should have liked better based on the plot and interesting characters but it never took hold of me.

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    1. Bill, that is funny. I have Open Season by C. J. Box also; just got it this year and have not read it. For years I kept getting them confused and thought I had the book by C. J. Box.

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  3. Tracy, I've had this on my kindle app for sometime and still haven't read it! I picked it up for free, trout the setting of Vermont would be worth it. I've been there several times. I'll have to get to this one soon! Thanks for the great link about Mayor!

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    1. Peggy, the book is definitely worth a try and you will probably really like it. Archer Mayor seems to be such a nice, down-to-earth person.

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  4. Oh, sorry to read that this one didn't quite live up to expectations, Tracy. I owned a printed copy of this book for years before donating it on. I couldn't tell you why today.

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    1. Keishon, maybe that is the problem, having expectations. I am sure there are some in the series I will like, since he has been publishing so long. We will see.

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  5. Tracy - I know exactly what you mean by a book that just didn't quite live up to what you'd hoped. And it can indeed happen even if the protagonists are well-drawn and the writing style is good, etc.; those things aren't always enough to really draw one in. And part of it very likely is the fact that the characters and events in any story have to be believable. Without that credibility, it's easy to get pulled out of a story.

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    1. You are right, Margot, that was probably a large part of the problem. I kept questioning the story. For a first novel, it is very well done and compares well to a lot of other books I have tried in the past.

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  6. A completely new series for me, so thanks very much as always for making the introductions TracyK though maybe I'll skip the first one!

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    1. Sergio, even though this was a police procedural, the plot just felt like a straight thriller to me, which isn't my type of thing. But with all the praise the author gets for the series, I am sure it develops into something more.

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  7. Tracy, never heard of Archer Mayor, leave alone read the author. My visits to your blog are proving very educative. A suspense or surprise element in a book often works for me even if the plot and the characters don't.

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    1. Prashant, you have introduced me to many books too. This one has much suspense and twists and turns.

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  8. New author to me, new series too, great cover, characters and relationships and small town intrigue - all plusses .....but slightly hesitant. Sitting on the fence here, I'm not too sure whether I'm likely to cross paths with it in my locale, so I'm unlikely to try. (What will power!)

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    1. Col, I agree on the cover. He also self-publishes his backlist, which is unusual. Very interesting author.

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  9. Tracy, I read this book years ago, and though I knew it was the start of a series, I had no idea there were so many of them now! Nor had I noticed till right now that it shares its name with the CJ Box book. As far as I remember, I liked it well enough, but not enough to immediately seek out more by him. I must say, your review did vividly bring back the horrible crime in it...

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    1. Moira, I was surprised that he had written so many. Because this is a police procedural, I wanted to like it more than I did. And I trust that later books will have more elements that I look for in a mystery.

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