Lobsters too short to be legal – The Catch, by Archer Mayor

April 3, 2009 at 8:56 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)


In The Catch, agents of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation (VBI), find that a shocking murder is tied to a far-reaching drug smuggling operation.

That’s it in a nutshell, basically. The plot premise is not especially original, the investigation itself is a tortuous affair marked by long stretches of tedious surveillance, interviews with less-than-helpful witnesses and suspects, and various other frustrations. Why read it then?

First and foremost, there’s Joe Gunther, Brattleboro’s former police chief, now heading up the office of the VBI. Joe is such a good, compassionate, and intelligent man, it’s a pleasure to spend time in his company.  Another intriguing regular in this series is the irascible Willy Kunkle. Willy has a withered arm, a result of an elbow injury that never healed properly. He is famously prickly and way too blunt in delicate situations. But having  worked with Willy for many years, Joe has come to value his skills as an investigator. So, allowances are made for this difficult yet fundamentally decent policeman, who happens to be in an unlikely but seemingly workable relationship with yet another of the VBI team members, Sammie Martens.

Joe too has an interesting love life. He has recently ended his long term relationship with Gail Zigman and is now seeing Lyn Silva whom he met while working on a case that took him to Gloucester, Massachusetts. Lyn has since moved to Brattleboro, where Joe still lives, and opened a bar there. For Joe, she has become “…his lover, his sounding board, and his best friend, all in one.”

I love the way Archer Mayor writes. He’s not a showy prose stylist, but if a descriptive passage is called  for in the course of the narrative, he’s more than up to the task:

“They were in Maine, having opted to avoid the faster southern route, east through Keene, Manchester and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in exchange forfor the famed Kancamagus Highway, twisting among the white mountains like a string of shining mercury. That leg of the trip had been predictably spectacular, running for thirty miles by the tallest peaks on the eastern seacoast, some with their heads in the mist, and all offering ghostly glimpses along dark, damp mountainous passes.

Kancamagus Highway? Never heard of it myself, but I’d love to go there now. This series benefits greatly from its New England setting; as you can see from the foregoing, Mayor makes the most of that fact. It could be argued, though, that Mayor’s chief strength as a writer lies in his ability to create completely believable characters who speak to each other in dialogue that rings absolutely true.

So, if you want a good read in the best tradition of the American police procedural – and if you want to find out what the deal is concerning too-short lobsters! – I recommend, with enthusiasm, Archer Mayor’s The Catch.

Archer Mayor speaking att Northfield Mountt Herman School in Gill, Massachusetts

Archer Mayor speaking at Northfield Mount Herman School in Gill, Massachusetts


Archer Mayor’s site is definitely worth checking out. It features some entertaining video segments that really give you a feel for this author’s warmth and wit.

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