New Maine Times Book Review: Three Can Keep A Secret

Posted Saturday, November 9, 2013 in Culture

New Maine Times Book Review: Three Can Keep A Secret
By Archer Mayor.
Minotaur, 2013.
320 pages, $25.99.
ISBN 978-1-2500-2613-2.
Reviewed by William D. Bushnell
    When Hurricane Irene hits New England, Detective Joe Gunther of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation has a lot more to worry about than flood damaged roads, bridges, houses, and businesses.  In just three days the Vermont homicide rate doubles, a washed-out gravesite is found to contain no body, and the governor is up to her eyeballs in a nasty political scam.  And Joe will have to sort it all out while standing in two feet of mud.
    THREE CAN KEEP A SECRET is Archer Mayor’s twenty-fourth mystery novel, including this latest installment in his best-selling Joe Gunther series.  Mayor is a sheriff’s investigator and the state medical examiner, so his law enforcement experience brings colorful authenticity to his mysteries, especially with his favorite gumshoe, Joe Gunther.
    Benjamin Franklin reportedly said:  “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”  And now, taking full advantage of the hurricane’s destruction and chaos, someone is trying very hard to make Ben’s adage come true.
    Mayor’s mysteries are always cleverly plotted and loaded with suspense and exciting cop action, with careful emphasis on police investigative techniques, ruses, tricks, and unexpected twists.  And this mystery novel refreshingly holds to that successful formula.
    Joe heads up the VBI, a special task force that investigates major crimes, and is made up of detectives with unique skills.  Joe is the brains of his team, smart, patient, thorough, and always thinking several steps ahead.  He even likes to attend autopsies.
    His other three team members bring different talents to the game.  Lester is technology savvy and has little good to say about anything or anybody.  Sam is forceful, intuitive, and won’t put up with any baloney, not even from Joe.  And one-armed Willy is the muscle, he’d rather thump a suspect than interrogate him.  Together, the bad guys don’t have a chance.
    During the storm the state mental hospital is flooded and evacuated, but one patient, a sweet old lady known as The Governor, escapes.  Then a former state senator, an infamous, amoral, and much hated politician is found dead in an exclusive, very expensive retirement community, and a casket is unearthed by flood waters, revealing only rocks, not the dead body as expected.
    During the politician’s autopsy, the medical examiner discovers one clue that leads Joe to suspect that the state senator’s death was not from natural causes as first thought.  Now he has a murder to investigate, a missing nutcase to find, and a mysterious grave with no body to figure out.  His team spreads out to investigate these three unusual cases, but soon threads emerge that make the cops think that maybe they may all be related somehow.
    As Joe digs into the dead politician’s personal and political life, he realizes that finding the escaped mental patient may be the key, but more dead bodies just get in the way, and the casket full of rocks proves to be a real conundrum for the team.  Meanwhile, the governor falls for a slick political trick that threatens to derail her administration, and a name connected to that scandal also appears in one of Joe’s current cases.  Now Joe and his people find themselves operating in the rarified air of high politics and the stink of low corruption decades old.
    Mayor’s narrative is smooth, sharp, and vivid in its portrayal of men and women in law enforcement and state government coping as best they can in difficult, sometimes embarrassin, and often uncomfortable circumstances.  Add an ambitious and incredibly stupid political flunkie, a couple of slack-jawed loser petty criminals, a murder that didn’t happen, officious and arrogant middle-management hacks, and a lump on Lester’s head, and you have a very compelling mystery that will be hard to put down.  Mayor has another hit with this one.
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