Mayor, Archer H. 1950- (Archer Mayor, Archer Huntington Mayor)
Mayor, Archer H. 1950- (Archer Mayor, Archer Huntington Mayor)
Born July 30, 1950, in Mount Kisco, NY; son of Brantz (in business) and Ana Mayor; married Sharon Tate (a teacher), 1975 (divorced, 1979); married Ponnie Derby (a teacher), 1980; children: Jonathon, Elizabeth. Education: Yale University, B.A., 1973.
Home and office—Newfane, VT.
Time-Life Books, New York, NY, researcher and writer, 1974-75; University of Texas Press, Austin, TX, special projects editor, 1975-79; freelance writer, 1980—. William M. Roth gubernatorial campaign, political aide and field representative, 1973-74; consultant to Lyndon Baines Johnson Library, 1979-80; New-Brook Volunteer Fire Department Rescue Squad, emergency medical technician, 1986—; Rescue, Inc., emergency medical technician, 1987-92; State of Vermont, assistant medical examiner, 2002—. Worked variously as a photographer, lab technician, illustrator, and assistant editor.
CRIME NOVELS; "JOE GUNTHER" SERIES; UNDER NAME ARCHER MAYOR
Open Season, Putnam (New York, NY), 1988.
Borderlines, Putnam (New York, NY), 1990.
Scent of Evil, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1992.
The Skeleton's Knee, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1993.
Fruits of the Poisonous Tree, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1995.
The Dark Root, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1995.
The Ragman's Memory, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Bellows Falls, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1997.
The Disposable Man, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Occam's Razor, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 1999.
The Marble Mask, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Tucker Peak, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2001.
The Sniper's Wife, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Gatekeeper, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2003.
The Surrogate Thief, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2004.
St. Albans Fire, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2005.
The Second Mouse, Mysterious Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Chat, Grand Central Pub. (New York, NY), 2007.
Southern Timberman: The Legacy of William Buchanan (nonfiction), University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1988.
The Huron Mountain Club (nonfiction), HMC/Thompson-Shore (Chicago, IL), 1988.
Contributor to magazines, including Writer and Mystery Scene.
Archer H. Mayor developed an interest in writing and photography during his college years through various summer jobs in the United States and abroad. This interest has resulted in two nonfiction titles and more than a dozen crime novels. Mayor's career began with nonfiction, and he saw publication of those two titles in 1988. He then switched writing genres and published a mystery novel, Open Season, also in 1988. The work was praised by most critics for its inclusion of forensic science, believable characters, and suspenseful pacing. In fact, Open Season launched a series of crime novels whose lead character is Joe Gunther, a police lieutenant in the small Vermont town of Brattleboro.
The "Gunther" stories are a collection of "some of the best and purest police procedurals [not ‘classic detective stories’] since the glory days of Ed McBain," according to Barry W. Gardner in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers. Discussing Mayor's series, Gardner stated, "The quality of Mayor's prose is one of his primary strengths…. It can be almost lyrical when describing the Vermont countryside, then crisp and clean by turn when describing the to and fro of police work. His narratives are excellently paced, and never feel as if they are progressing in fits and starts…. [Another strength] is his strong portrayals of his leading characters…. [Mayor] has accomplished the difficult task of integrating the traditional form of the police procedural with the modern practice of making the protagonists' lives and personal relationships a major part of the stories."
Borderlines is the second of the Gunther police investigations. Charting Gunther's detective work after his brush with death in a fire that claims the lives of five members of a commune, the book follows the lieutenant as he comes to terms with the adverse changes he observes in the town and its people, including his old friends. Hailed by some critics as a sophisticated thriller packed with stunning forensic detail, Borderlines was judged a successful sequel to Mayor's fiction debut.
"If there is a criticism to be made of Mayor's books, it is one that can at some time be made of all crime writers…. Occasionally elements of his plots have not been totally convincing … [but] none of Mayor's sins in this regard have been large in any case," stated Gardner. Library Journal contributor Rex E. Klett commented that the story of The Skeleton's Knee contained great "detail relating both to location and police methodology," which should be pleasing to "procedural fans."
In the fifth Gunther novel, Fruits of the Poisonous Tree, Gunther investigates his lover's rape. Rex E. Klett recommended this book in Library Journal, highlighting "Mayor's smooth, measured prose." Gardner also praised the book, stating: "[Mayor's] prose is lean and spare in this book as befits the tale he is telling, with little of the lyrical about it. The story is taut, suspenseful, and all too believable…. While many writers abandon characters after a few books, feeling they have explored them fully—and others regrettably continue to mine a vein clearly depleted—Mayor shows no signs of faltering with Gunther."
The Dark Root, sixth in the Gunther series, also garnered praise. In this case, Gunther investigates the invasion of an Asian family's home in his small Vermont town, Brattleboro. "The Dark Root is almost exclusively the story of a hunt, with the ‘personal’ material kept to a very proper and effective minimum. Its detailing of the mechanics of a large-scale interagency investigation is utterly convincing," according to Gardner. Thomas Gaughan noted in Booklist, "Mayor's Brattleboro is a fascinating place…. The novel works in every way a good police procedural must."
Bellows Falls takes its title from the small, down-on-its-luck town in Vermont where the action takes place. Mayor drums up a complicated concoction of drug deal- ing, domestic violence, police corruption, and murder, adding to the mix his talent for bringing the characters and setting to life while keeping the reader engrossed. In The Disposable Man, Gunther finds himself embroiled in a murder investigation after the discovery of a corpse with Cyrillic language tattoos on its toes. Could it be a forty-year-old vendetta between old Cold War veterans, the CIA against the KGB, or warring members of the Russian Mafia? Whoever the murderers are, Gunther knows they certainly must view him as disposable—hence the book's title. In a Booklist review, Gaughan commented: "The sense of place Mayor creates is vivid and real…. So, too, are the recurring characters."
Gunther does survive, however, and finds himself—in Occam's Razor—faced with two grisly murders. As if in deliberate contrast to the gruesome deaths, Mayor delights the reader with what Booklist reviewer Gaughan called "a lyrical 200-word description of a Brattleboro snowfall [that] might be the sweetest, most knowing 200 words of the year." The Marble Mask finds Gunther leaving the Brattleboro police department to become field commander of the newly created Vermont Bureau of Investigation (VBI), staffed by the best of the best from Vermont's sixty-eight law enforcement agencies. Their first-ever case involves the frozen body of a Vermont crime boss found atop Mt. Mansfield; however, the corpse appears to have been on ice since he was murdered in 1947. A critic for Publishers Weekly commented: "This is a thoroughly entertaining police procedural—imaginatively conceived and executed with the polish Mayor has honed over the life of the series."
In a review of Tucker Peak, a critic for Publishers Weekly declared this addition to the series "the best yet, filled with his usual strong characters, evocative settings, well-researched backgrounds and polished writing." In this mystery set in a ski resort, Gunther and one of his VBI detectives—Sammie Martens—must go undercover to solve a crime spree that involves a small-time thief whose friends are being threatened with murder. Bill Ott, in his review for Booklist, stated, "Mayor again displays his remarkable ability to meld setting and character into a fully realized whole."
When asked by Louise Jones during a 2001 interview for Publishers Weekly if he ever thought about writing a nonseries novel, Mayor replied: "Right now I would be foolish to do that. My readers have certain expectations, I don't want to leave them high and dry, and I can do a lot within the context of a series. It would be fun to explore other types of writing if I could get off the rigorous schedule I'm on. I write a Joe Gunther novel every year—with all the attendant research and publicity—but I'm also part of my community. I'm a town constable, captain of the Newfane Rescue Squad, an interior attack fire fighter, moderator at the village of Newfane annual town meeting, on the board of trustees of a nearby hospital, and I've applied to join the state's assistant medical examiner program this fall. My wife and daughter tolerate me with generous grace."
Mayor once told CA: "I write because I truly enjoy it, and also because I'm lucky enough to be able to make a living at it. I shy away from the pretensions most often associated with writing, however, and prefer to see myself more as a guy just doing his job. That outlook, of course, does not preclude taking pride in what I do, nor in seeing within it some private philosophical worth.
"I suppose I've come to see as my two most powerful motivators the combination of ignorance and curiosity—and a drive to satisfy both. With each book, I set myself a challenge—to learn something about which I was previously ignorant, and to find a way to pass along my education to my readers in an interesting and entertaining fashion. Some of this may be pure nuts-and-bolts, and some of it may be more ephemeral in nature. It is as fascinating to me to study how people relate to each other as it is to describe their actions, so in each book I also try to confront my characters with new and challenging emotional and psychological puzzles, which I hope will be as intriguing as the obligatory but more conventional trappings of the mystery story."
In The Sniper's Wife, Gunther and Vietnam veteran—and fellow cop—Willie Kunkle travel to Manhattan, where Kunkle's ex-wife has apparently succumbed to a drug overdose. Kunkle (who, in a change of pace for Mayor, serves as the protagonist in this novel) is convinced his ex was murdered and embarks on a drawn-out campaign to find her killer. "Driven by his own peculiar code of honor," a Kirkus Reviews contributor explained, "Willy mounts an investigation that is both unorthodox and lethal." In the process, he has to confront memories of his own life in New York, revisiting the places where he once lived. Mayor, wrote Bill Ott in Booklist, "proves equally capable here of tightening his grip around the neck of the hard-boiled novel."
His "understanding of human behavior," declared a Publishers Weekly contributor, "makes his tortured protagonist an unforgettable character." "Mayor writes a tough story for his tortured protagonist," concluded Marilyn Stasio in the New York Times Book Review, "and the unfamiliar setting brings out a new, edge-of-the-knife side of his incisive descriptive powers."
Gatekeeper tells the story of how Gunther and his team are faced with another drug-related problem: eliminating heroin from Vermont altogether. In the novel, Mayor shows how drugs are no respecter of families or occupations. Two of Gunther's cops have addicts in their own families. "Gunther," wrote Connie Fletcher in Booklist, "is faced with dilemma after dilemma as his own officers' lives are pitted against those of drug users." "Quiet, unassuming, yet charismatic," stated a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "the ever-readable Sage of Brattleboro shines in his lucky 13th" novel.
The Surrogate Thief, declared Marilyn Stasio in the New York Times Book Review, "opens with one of those rural crimes that seem pathetically squalid until Mayor puts his humanizing hand to them. A loser named Matt Purvis is holed up in a trailer waving a gun at his estranged wife, whose shrill taunts drown out the soothing voice of the hostage negotiator." The confrontation brings up painful memories for Gunther, because Purvis's gun turns out to be the same weapon used years earlier in a murder-robbery the detective failed to solve because his wife was dying of cancer. "Engrossing stuff," declared a Kirkus Reviews contributor. "Only K.C. Constantine rivals Mayor in his mastery of the small-town procedural." "Time and again, the unexpected depth and sensitivity of the characterizations," Stasio concluded, "reverse facile assumptions about the socially marginalized people who live in this neck of the woods." "This is the prolific Mayor's most accomplished book," stated a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "—a character-driven novel that's enhanced by graceful prose and a compelling narrative."
With St. Albans Fire, Gunther investigates a murder-arson case in the midst of rural Vermont. A fire at a dairy farm destroys not only the barn, but the herd of dairy cattle and the family's teenaged son, Bobby Cutts. "As he starts to investigate," Jenny McLarin wrote in Booklist, "Gunther discovers other suspicious fires in the area." The investigation eventually takes Gunther and Kunkle to Newark, New Jersey, where they begin turning up clues to the identity of the arsonist. "The most underrated cop in crime fiction," opined a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "… racks up a satisfying 16th in a series that marches confidently to its own unhurried beat."
The Second Mouse and Chat form the seventeenth and eighteenth accounts of Gunther's adventures, and they are celebrated by critics in the same language as the previous volumes. Chat centers on Internet chat rooms and deals with an accident that has left Gunther's mother and brother seriously injured, while The Second Mouse follows the consequences of the murder of a Brattleboro woman. "Archer Mayor is a simple but eloquent writer," stated Mel Odom on Blogcritics.org. "His scenes quickly advance the plot and the characters, and they're deceptively easy to read. I found myself just cruising through the story, flipping pages long past when I should have been asleep or otherwise occupied. People who love mysteries but haven't given Archer Mayor and Joe Gunther a try should pick up The Second Mouse or any of the other titles," Odom concluded.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Booklist, December 1, 1995, Thomas Gaughan, review of The Dark Root; September 1, 1998, Thomas Gaughan, review of The Disposable Man, p. 71; September 15, 1999, Thomas Gaughan, review of Occam's Razor; August, 2000, Thomas Gaughan, review of The Marble Mask, p. 2121; September 15, 2001, Bill Ott, review of Tucker Peak, p. 200; September 15, 2002, Bill Ott, review of The Sniper's Wife, p. 210; October 1, 2003, Connie Fletcher, review of Gatekeeper, p. 305; October 1, 2005, Jenny McLarin, review of St. Albans Fire, p. 39; November 1, 2006, Thomas Gaughan, review of The Second Mouse, p. 32; September 15, 2007, Connie Fletcher, review of Chat, p. 37.
Book World, October 23, 2005, Richard Lipes, review of St. Albans Fire, p. 13.
Drood Review of Mystery, November, 2002, review of The Sniper's Wife, p. 1.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2002, review of The Sniper's Wife, p. 1179; September 1, 2003, review of Gatekeeper, p. 1103; September 1, 2004, review of The Surrogate Thief, p. 840; September 15, 2005, review of St. Albans Fire, p. 1003; September 1, 2007, review of Chat.
Kliatt, March, 2004, Nola Theiss, review of The Sniper's Wife, p. 55.
Library Journal, November 1, 1993, Rex E. Klett, review of Fruits of the Poisonous Tree, p. 152; December, 1994, Rex E. Klett, review of The Skeleton's Knee, p. 138; June 1, 2004, Ann Kim, review of The Surrogate Thief, p. 109.
New York Times Book Review, June 21, 1992, Marilyn Stasio, review of Scent of Evil, p. 21; November 3, 2002, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Sniper's Wife, p. 22; November 7, 2004, Marilyn Stasio, "Not Just a Nut with a Gun," p. 26.
Publishers Weekly, April 13, 1992, review of Scent of Evil, p. 46; September 4, 2000, review of The Marble Mask, p. 88; October 15, 2001, review of Tucker Peak, p. 48; October 15, 2001, Louise Jones, "PW Talks with Archer Mayor," p. 49; September 30, 2002, review of The Sniper's Wife, p. 53; September 22, 2003, review of Gatekeeper, p. 87; September 13, 2004, review of The Surrogate Thief, p. 62; September 12, 2005, review of St. Albans Fire, p. 46; August 20, 2007, review of Chat, p. 51; October 8, 2007, "Commercial Frontlist, His Own Backlist: Crime Writer Solves His Own Problems," p. 23.
Wilson Library Bulletin, June, 1992, Kathleen Maio, review of Scent of Evil, p. 128.
Yankee, August, 1992, Geoffrey Elan, review of Scent of Evil, p. 8.
Archer Mayor Home Page,http://www.archermayor.com (December 29, 2007).
Blogcritics.org,http://blogcritics.org/ (December 29, 2007), Mel Odom, reviews of The Second Mouse and Chat.
Jandy's Reading Room,http://www.jandysbooks.com/ (December 29, 2007), review of Chat.