WILMINGTON—Archer Mayor titled his latest Joe Gunther novel, Bomber’s Moon, as almost a warning: Be careful what you wish for.
The phrase “bomber’s moon” originated during World War II and referred to the full moon, which made night-targeting during air raids easier for pilots, the Newfane-based mystery author told a rapt audience that filled Bartleby’s Books on Oct. 12.
But, Mayor cautioned, the moonlight was a mixed blessing. If the bombers could see targets better, then so, too, could the anti-aircraft guns see the bombers.
“The metaphor speaks for itself,” Mayor said.
In Bomber’s Moon, the book’s protagonist, Joe Gunther, and his fellow investigators at the Vermont Bureau of Investigation dig into the deaths of a small-town drug dealer and a thief.
Running parallel to the team’s work is the work of investigative reporter Rachel Reiling and private investigator Sally Kravitz. These two women form an uncomfortable alliance to uncover the links between the two murders and a local prep school.
Gunther, according to Mayor, is a “regular dude” meant to be an everyperson.
But where did he come from? an audience member asked.
Time for the analyst’s couch, Mayor joked.
A writer from the school of hard knocks
To understand what’s behind Joe Gunther, you need to understand Archer Mayor.
“I was brought up on the road, the [youngest] of six kids,” he said. “There’s an element of me that comes from the school of hard knocks.”
Now 69 years old, Mayor lived in the United States, Canada, and South America and said that his father never stayed in one place for more than four years.
He also lived in Europe, where he remembered a police officer showing up at the family’s front door, a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist, asking for Mayor’s father.
Mayor said his childhood taught him to pack light. It also afforded him an “extraordinary number of experiences.”
It also meant that he was always “the new kid,” “the weirdo,” and “the target.”
The police, firefighters, and EMTs were the people who usually showed up during some of the tougher times that Mayor spent being the new kid.
These first responders, however, inspired Mayor to himself work as an officer, a firefighter, and an EMT. He has also worked as a detective and ski patroller and he is currently an investigator for Vermont’s Office of the Chief Medical Inspector, according to his website, and he has worked as a researcher, editor, and journalist.
“I wanted to be part of the solution, and to be of service,” he said.
This is where Joe Gunther comes in.
Mayor said as a reader, he kept coming across these cops as derelicts. These characters were usually drunk, usually divorced, and usually disgruntled.
“Why not [create] a normal guy doing his best to do a proper job?” Mayor said. “I worked with a lot of people like that.”
In Mayor’s opinion, his main hero is “not extraordinary except for his integrity.” And based on the reception from audience at Bartleby’s, the author chose the type of hero readers relate to.
Two writing personas in one author
Mayor admits to possessing two distinct parts of his personality, a quality reflected in the pages of his 30 books.
One end of the spectrum is the “showman” who entertains readers and jokes that he will write the Gunther series until he becomes a millionaire.
On the other end is the recluse who must shelter himself from the majority of the human race. Vermont’s low population is one reason he moved here in the 1980s, he said.
In between these two extremes exists a writer with similar juxtapositions — a writer inspired by his own ignorance to learn and who conducts extensive in-person interviews, yet then locks himself away to follow a story serendipitously from Chapter 1 to The End.
Despite the series being a work of fiction, his research, his hands-on experience, and his three decades plus of life in Windham County lend an air of journalistic authenticity to his storytelling.
“The result adds a depth, detail and veracity to his characters and their tribulations,” his Facebook page says.
Mayor has published a book annually since 1988. “I’m the sheet rocker of literature,” he joked with the audience.
He has already completed his 31st book, due for release next year. Its working title: The Deathwatch Beetle.
According to Wikipedia, a deathwatch beetle is “a species of woodboring beetle that sometimes infests the structural timbers of old buildings.”
“To attract mates, the adult insects create a tapping or ticking sound that can sometimes be heard in the rafters of old buildings on summer nights; therefore, the deathwatch beetle is associated with quiet, sleepless nights and is named for the vigil (watch) being kept beside the dying or dead, and by extension, a superstition has grown up that these sounds are an omen of impending death.”
So far, Mayor has said little at book signings, in his quarterly newsletters, and on social media about the new title, but two things are likely.
First, it will be another metaphor that can speak for itself.
And surely, Mayor will be holding readings next fall — and dropping references to book #32.