ARCHER MAYOR – The Dark Root. Joe Gunther #6. Mysterious Press, hardcover, 1995; paperback, 1996.

   Mayor is one of the best of the latest wave of writers, to my eye.  I thought  so from his first book, Open Season, and I thought that his last, Fruits of the Poisonous Tree, was his best to date. He’s overdue for an award in my opinion.

   An Asian family is brutalized, and won’t talk to the police. A local gangster is tortured, then killed. What began as an Asian-style “home invasion” is becoming a town invasion, and Lieutenant Joe Gunther of the Brattleboro, Vermont police finds himself immersed in a form of crime and gang warfare new to him. Other deaths follow, and Joe must join forces with much larger agencies to find the killers.

   This was in one sense and perhaps the primary one a police procedural, and a damned good one, maybe even superb. I haven’t read a more realistic-seeming description of a large-scale, multi-jurisdiction operation. It’s also a portrait of how Asian gangs operate in this country, and again, a very realistic seeming one. (I’m often amused by reviewers, myself unfortunately included, who use the stand-alone “realistic” in contexts in which they haven’t the foggiest idea of what reality consists of.)

   Where Mayor’s last book dealt heavily with Gunther and his lover’s emotions — while at the same time also being an excellent procedural — this is the story of a hunt, and the “personal” material is kept to a very proper minimum. Mayor is a fine narrative storyteller, and his pacing here is excellent. Of the male writers to appear in the last few years, I’d place him second only to Connelly, and not that far back.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #22, November 1995