Cop by day, crime writer by night
For sheriff's deputy Archer, writing a mystery novel is all in the details.
There are two topics that inevitably come up during mystery writer Archer Mayor's whirlwind tour of bookstores to promote the latest in his series of Joe Gunther mystery novels, which was released this fall by Grand Central Publishing.Skip to next paragraph
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The first concerns the obvious similarities between Mayor, a part-time sheriff's deputy and medical investigator, and his protagonist, a veteran lawman who solves major crimes for the fictional Vermont Bureau of Investigation. Both are Vermont-born and loners to some extent, but the 50-something Mayor insists that he and Gunther, who has been in his early 50s throughout the series' 18-book, 18-year run, are not the same person.
Speaking to a small audience gathered at Warner's Main Street Bookends on a recent Saturday – part of a 60-day, 90-stop tour of bookstores, most of them independent, in New England and eastern New York State – Mayor acknowledges that he and Gunther share more than few traits. Still, he says Gunther is just the vehicle through which he tells his stories of the dark underbelly of Vermont, which Mayor returned home to 27 years ago, after years of moving around.
The other topic, raised by Mayor himself, is that he's not really a mystery writer at all. Also an EMT and volunteer firefighter, Mayor came to novel writing only after working as a newspaper journalist, photographer, researcher, advance man for political campaigns, and writer of history books, which may have something to do with why his novels don't contain swashbuckling heroes nor evil archvillains, but instead focus on relatively ordinary people caught in difficult circumstances. In the case of "Chat," the most recent novel, the narrative stems from the seemingly harmless interactions that take place in Internet chat rooms.
"I'm a social anthropologist. I'm not really a murder mystery writer," he explains. "I'm not a bad puzzle builder, but much more interesting to me are the people involved. How do they resolve crises? What resources do they draw upon to sort out their hash? And some will be extraordinarily rational in that, and others will just go off the deep end in entirely human ways. And this is something, in 25 years of working in the streets in one capacity or another, I witness all the time."
Not that Mayor is exclusively interested in the gory details – far from it. His early career hopping was driven largely by his thirst for fine, and often mundane, details. "I can talk my way into jobs only because I wanted to find out what they did. I really wasn't terribly useful," he says today – a quest that continues not only with his obsession with getting those details right for the Gunther novels, but by making those details themselves critical parts of the story. He typically gathers some of that data by recording conversations and transcribing them later, often running them by the subject to make sure the facts are being represented properly before sending them to his publisher.