November 13, 2006

BOOKS: The Second Mouse, Archer Mayor (2006)

17th in Mayor's series about Vermont cop Joe Gunther.

We start with two separate stories. A young woman is found dead in her home. There are no signs of violence, and the evidence suggests suicide. But her landlord had been trying to evict her, and might have wanted her gone badly enough to kill her. Meanwhile, we're following the somewhat comic adventures of a trio of local small-time thugs whose leader wants to take a shot at the big money.

The Second Mouse is an odd book structurally. We're led to expect that as the questions are answered, the two plots will inevitably prove to be one; it's likely, we imagine, that the local thugs are responsible for the woman's death.

We do eventually get answers to all of the questions that are raised in the early going, but the two cases never come together in quite the way we expect. That's probably true to life, and it's likely not at all unusual for police to find that things are or aren't connected in different ways than they'd assumed.

But one of the reasons I enjoy mystery fiction is for the joy of watching how cleverly the author fits all of the puzzle pieces together; when it turns out that he's actually been constructing two separate puzzles, it's a little bit frustrating.

That's not to say that the book's not worth reading. Mayor is one of our most underrated mystery writers, and his cast of characters continues to be an entertaining group; he's also set up some interesting new possible storylines for future volumes in the series. His parallel stories here are laid out cleanly and fairly, and the relationships among his small gang of criminals are interesting and convincing. Not Mayor at his best, but not bad.

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