Reviews by L. J. Roberts

ARCHER MAYOR – Trace. Joe Gunther/VBI #28. Minotaur Books, hardcover, September 2017.

First Sentence:   Jayla Robinson looked out across Albany’s Lancaster Street at the three matching brownstones opposite.

   Joe Gunther, head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, needs to take his elderly mother to a hospital in the Midwest leaving his team with three very different cases; the medical examiner’s daughter’s roommate being murdered in their apartment, a closed double murder where it is now found isn’t as cut-and-dried as it originally appeared, and the discover of three teeth and a burned-out battery found on a railroad track.

   Mayor’s books contain a true ensemble cast of very individual characters. By removing Gunther from center stage for most of the book, the other characters have a chance to shine. Mayor’s descriptions tell us much more about each character than just their appearance, or even background.

   That we also learn about their personalities plays a major role in the growth in the relationship of two characters. While one may not normally be a fan of a relationship focus in a mystery, it really does work here with growth and realization. He doesn’t stint on the secondary characters, either. The relationship Joe has with his brother Leo is very easy and realistic.

   One thing about police procedurals is the fascinating things one learns. In this case it is regarding planted fingerprints and about trains, as well as how the VBI — the Bureau of Criminal Investigations in the real world — interacts with other agencies. But Mayor is also very good about the small details. Not only are they not boring, but often it’s the sort of thing where one thinks, “Oh, I’d forgotten about that.” A lot of the methodologies and technologies employed are very clever.

   Trace contains three cases each of which is interesting and stands on its own with details and suspense building at a nice pace. It also ends with a nice homage to the vast majority of good, honest, hard-working police officers who really do work to protect and serve.