Archer Mayor is not the most reliable mystery writer out there. I discovered Mayor back when CBS Sunday Morning was running a series of profiles on American crime novelists and Mayor, along with George Pelecanos, John Straley, and Laura Lippman, was one of them. His early novels featuring Vermont cop Joe Gunther were quite good but some were simple okay.

His last one, The Gatekeeper is simply a confused and confusing mess. The Sniper’s Wife, the novel before The Gatekeeper, is good enough to keep me interested in reading more from Archer Mayor although I will probably wait for a future one to be in a used bookstore or remaindered pile.

The Sniper’s Wife stars Willie Kunkle, an angry and silent detective on Joe Gunther’s team who will remind many mystery novel fans of Burke, the lead character in many Andrew Vachss novels. Willie learns of his ex-wife’s death in New York City and goes to identify the body. Once there, he becomes suspicious of the circumstances of that death and decides to look into it and avenge it. He does so partly in an attempt to make up for the damage he caused in her life. With Willie Kunkle on the loose, the NYPD gets the visit of Vermont detective Joe Gunther and Sammie Martens, another cop and Kunkle’s current girlfriend of sorts. Gunther is out there to try and stop Willie from doing something stupid that will get him kicked off the force.

Gunther and Martens befriend Ward Ogden, a New York police detective part of an exclusive club of well-respected senior investigators dubbed dinosaurs. If there is not a new lead character for a new series being introduced here, I do not know my mysteries. Ogden, Gunther, and Martens team up to find Kunkle and, as they do so, decide to re-open the investigation of Mary Kunkle’s death.

Archer Mayor, who can sometimes get lost in his own intricate plotlines and too many characters –I really did not like The Gatekeeper at all—keeps everything rolling along nicely here and keeps the reader wanting to turn to the next page. The Sniper’s Wife is not the best Archer Mayor mystery novel out there (I like The Skeleton’s Knee myself for that distinction) but it is quite enjoyable and managed to make me want to give Mayor another, slim, chance next time.

The Sniper’s Wife – A Joe Gunther Mystery (sort of)
Archer Mayor
324 pages
Warner Books 2003

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