three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
15-Mar-Apr-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-SurrogateThiefFollowing 2003’s Gatekeeper, Vermont homicide detective Joe Gunther explores his past demons. More than 30 years earlier, as his wife struggled with terminal cancer, Gunther abandoned the investigation of a neighborhood grocer’s murder. But when a woman shoots her ex-husband with the same weapon used in the earlier crime, new evidence uncovers the past. Joe has another chance to capture the killer—and, more importantly, come to terms with haunting issues relating to his former wife, his current love, and the case he failed to close.
Warner Books. 304 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 089296815X

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Mayor has devised a vivid overview of the kinds of criminal behavior—from domestic violence to interstate drug trafficking—that relentlessly wear down the social fabric in the postindustrial mill and factory towns of northern New England, giving people the uneasy feeling that they are losing control over their lives. … Time and again, the unexpected depth and sensitivity of the characterizations reverse facile assumptions about the socially marginalized people who live in this neck of the woods." Marilyn Stasio

San Diego Union-Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Archer Mayor is one of today’s most reliable—and most unappreciated—crime writers. His low-key police procedurals, which utilize their off-the-beaten-track setting to great advantage, are always entertaining, and his protagonist and iconoclastic supporting cast are unfailingly good company." Robert Wade

Houston Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"No one’s life has turned out all that well, infusing the string of deaths with additional pathos, and the distractions of Gail’s Kerry-like political dilemma and Joe’s forlorn memories further hollow out the book. The result is oddly disjointed for a writer of Mayor’s talents." P.G. Koch

Critical Summary

Set in Brattleboro, Vermont, The Surrogate Thief explores yet another facet of the life of Joe Gunther, head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation. An unassuming, character-driven police procedural, the book asks difficult questions about how one deals with past demons when justice lies in the balance. If you’re looking for a procedural full of serial killers, this isn’t it. It’s Vermont, after all, and Joe’s a compassionate and introspective guy—perhaps too much so. A few critics complained about the procedural’s oozing pathos; do we need to know every sad detail of Joe’s emotional life? Yet The Surrogate Thief once again reveals Mayor’s deep understanding of human emotion and intuition—important qualities, after all, for a detective.

First in the Series

Open Season (1988): Police Lieutenant Joe Gunther in Brattleboro, Vermont, connects murder victims to their service on a jury several years earlier.