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Chat, by Archer Mayor, Grand Central Publishing Release date October 25, 2007
Tuesday October 9, 2007
By Dale Piper
Once again, Archer Mayor has invited us into the world of Joe Gunther of the fictional Vermont Bureau of Investigation, this time faced with what seems to be a pair of seemingly unrelated deaths without clues. But before we know it, Gunther's life becomes even more complicated when his mother and brother are involved in a serious one-car accident at night on a snowy road that at first glance might seem like a slick road skid gone bad but at second glance doesn't appear quite that simple. As if that wasn't enough, the story is interlaced with snippets from an internet chat room where teens vent about their social lives, gripe about their parents and flirt. Unfortunately, as the book goes on the chats take on a more subtly sinister tone.
Mayor layers these plots as effortlessly as ever, all the while working in new developments in Gunther's personal life which, like his job, is far from uneventful. As in all of his novels, Mayor's style is soft-spoken. The reader is never bludgeoned with gratuitous high action or theatrics. The one spectacular ending to a chase just seems to fit the circumstances. His true understanding of not only the myriad personalities one finds in Vermont but the flavor of the region itself is what keeps his characters and settings from verging on being cartoons. Not one “ayup” in his books.
As unassuming as Mayor's writing is, he is a master of description. Not only do local towns and real Vermonters come alive under his pen, but his observations, as does this one as Joe Gunther maintains one of his vigils, as time allows, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock hospital where his brother lies in the ICU: “Joe… approached the window, where he watched nurses and technicians in gowns and masks working their way among their swathed, recumbent, immobile charges. It was both futuristic fantasy and lunatic ant farm, where those bedded in the white pods were tended and catered to for reasons far outreaching their apparent usefulness.”
The two murders we encounter at the beginning seem unsolvable, and yet through dogged persistence, dead-on accurate police procedure and a keen eye and ear for details and seeming coincidences, Gunther and his colleagues bring all the loose ends together into a tight knot. Through it all we meet a number of characters, from rural Vermont's equivalent of the local “boss” to a McMansion-dwelling family of professionals recently migrated in from New Jersey, with regular folks and local ne'er-do-wells woven in between.
After seventeen other Joe Gunther books we still gain insight into this home-grown investigator, his life and his family, which doesn't seem easy to accomplish. But Mayor does it.
Chat is another must-read. In fact, you can get the book - and probably have it signed - when Mayor visits the newly refurbished Vermont Book Shop at 7:00 p.m. on October 26 or at 5:00 p.m. on November 1 at the Briggs Carriage Bookstore in Brandon.
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