Gatekeeper by Archer Mayor is a hard book not to put down. A few years ago, Sunday Morning on CBS ran a series where they would introduce you to a regional mystery writer and Mayor was the Vermont guy. His early novels featuring Joe Gunther, a lone wolf cop were pretty good. This newer one is simply frustrating.
A mystery novel should not be particularly hard work to read. This is basically popcorn for the brain and what most readers are looking for are an interesting character, a setting they are not familiar with, and a captivating whodunit kind of story.
The problem with Gatekeeper is Mayor introduces about a new secondary or tertiary character every three pages and a new storyline every ten pages or so. By the time you get to page 134 there has been the shooting of someone’s niece in a convenience store, a cop’s kid keeping bad company, a politician’s daughter dying from an overdose, a drug dealer hung from a bridge, one shot cop, one cop going on her own to infiltrate the drug ring, the main character’s sort of girlfriend trying to get involved with a drug addict who reminds her of her niece, a small battle of jurisdiction over which police force does what. You are not even halfway through the book while trying to keep track of some fifty or so names. Add to that events taking place in three or four different towns at the same time and you have all the ingredients to try even a generous reader’s patience. So, maybe this is an easy book to put down after all.
Where Archer Mayor kept things simple and straightforward in the early novels in the Joe Gunther series such as The Skeleton’s Knees and Borderlines (Mysterious Press), this time he seems to be blindly writing along hoping something is eventually going to go somewhere. Well, if it hasn’t done anything by page 134, give up.
Gatekeeper – A Joe Gunther Mystery
Warner Books 2004
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