Archer Mayor (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photos)
Archer Mayor (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photos)
Friday November 16, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Rock-steady and dependable, like the detective character he created, Newfane author Archer Mayor churns out a Joe Gunther every year around this time.

Sure enough, "Paradise City," the 23rd in the Joe Gunther franchise, is out, and has already garnered rave reviews. Kirkus Reviews called it "understated, occasionally very funny, and intelligent. In his 23rd appearance, the Sage of Brattleboro remains as appealing as ever."

On the heels of "Tag Man," a 2011 New York Times bestseller, "Paradise City" appears "headed in the same direction," according to Mayor.

In "Paradise City," Mayor sends Gunther and his team at the Vermont Bureau of Investigation on a road trip, to investigate a series of burglaries across Vermont -- and the strange links those incidents have to jewelry thefts in Boston and a mysterious jewelry-buying operation in Northampton, Mass.

As the novel unfolds, Gunther, police in Boston and Northampton, and the vengeful niece of an elderly woman murdered on Beacon Hill converge on Northampton to bring the guilty parties to justice.

Mayor said he wrote "Paradise City" in part because he was intrigued by the links between Brattleboro and Northampton.

"There's always been, as far as I can tell, a sort of sisterly relationship between Brattleboro and Northampton," said Mayor. "Of course there are scale differences between the two. ... But there is this thing, the drinking water, whatever it is ... there's a kinship."

And as he has with previous novels set in and around Brattleboro, Mayor peels back the genteel surface of a comfortable New England town -- this time, Northampton -- to mine its underbelly.

The rough characters pass back and forth along Interstate 91. Invariably, Gunther and his team travel the same highway in their pursuit of evildoers. Mayor said he write the book in part to remind people that the interstate is vital infrastructure not just for everyday travelers but also for the criminal underworld.

"It's belittling, but the name ‘Heroine Highway' has been given to I-91," said Mayor.

In "Paradise City," it's not drugs but stolen goods that catch the attention of Gunther and his team and send them south on I-91.

To research "Paradise City," Mayor met the people who make up what locals call "Old Hamp" -- the shopkeepers, the local cops, the everyday citizens, the middle class folks who have been in the headlines a lot these days.

Mayor also studied the topography and geography of Northampton, going up in an airplane "where we were chased by a rather menacing storm."

"It's a forensic thing. I'm a historian by trade," he said.

Maybe so, but for more than two decades, he's been a novelist, successfully sustaining a mystery series thanks to a keen knowledge of police procedures and a knack for creating characters who seem real.

In "Paradise City," longtime characters Joe Gunther, Willy Kunkle and Sammie Martens continue to struggle with everyday matters of life, love and loss, even as they rise to the challenge of solving crime.

And the criminals, well, they're pretty bad, but not so evil that we can't see a bit of ourselves in them.

"In many ways what I'm trying to make compelling is the fact that much of what goes on in our society of a criminal nature is mundane," said Mayor. "In popular culture, crime is done by mega masters. In fact, the bread and butter of crime is simple survival. These guys are, in a totally dysfunctional fashion, just trying to make ends meet.

"I'm recognizing the utter humanity of these guys. These guys aren't monsters," he said. "Life is a logarhythm of decisions and actions which we have either taken or have befallen us."

Lately, the logarhythm of decisions and actions Mayor has taken about his own career have taken him into exciting new territory.

Doggedly entrepreneurial about his career -- he made industry news by purchasing the rights to his out-of-print novels back from the publishers -- Mayor recently embarked on a new venture in collaboration with the Emergent Media Center at Champlain College.

Partnering with a team of grad students at this cutting-edge program to train the next generation of media innovators, Mayor is hoping to launch "Archer Mayor's Lost Case Files," an episodic digital adventure game where the player will take on the role of a rookie detective working a case under the watching eye of seasoned investigator Joe Gunther.

"They opened their arms to this project. They were unbelievably enthusiastic and supportive," said Mayor. "They have made me a project."

The hope is that the game can be developed over the course of the next year or so, but right now, Mayor and the Emergent Media Center need your help. They have embarked on a Kickstarter campaign to raise $100,000 for the project. The campaign is under way and continues through Dec. 2. To contribute, search for it at www.kickstarter.com or visit www.archermayor.com.

"Once again, we in Vermont have done something that most people don't see as possible," said Mayor of his video game venture.

When not scheming to see Joe Gunther fight crime in the digital world, Mayor is busy promoting "Paradise City," with a slate of local stops in the next few days.

On Friday, he will be at Village Square Booksellers in Bellows Falls at 6 p.m. On Saturday, he make his annual appearance at Baker's Hallmark on Putney Road in Brattleboro, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then swing over to the Toadstool Bookshop in Keene, N.H., for a 2 p.m. appearance. Then on Monday, Nov. 19, he will be at the Dummerston Community Center, 150 West St., at 7 p.m.

He's also nearing completion on the 24th Joe Gunther novel, evocatively called "If Two of Them Are Dead," a title derived from a Ben Franklin quip about the only way three people can keep a secret.