Police State(s)

After seven months in the state I finally read Archer Mayor’s first novel from 1988, Open Season, which introduced everyone (and now me) to Vermont’s most famous (fictional) detective, Joe Gunther. The story, set mostly in Brattleboro at the bottom right corner of the state, is almost ridiculously complicated, but it’s skillfully told, and Gunther is a very appealing narrator and lead character.

Except for one sentence about Vermont and the Underground Railroad, Open Season could just as well be set anywhere in small-town, poverty-stricken New England… like, say, the Maine of Gerry Boyle’s Jack McMorrow. (McMorrow, being primarily a newspaperman, not an official officer of the law, has only starred in eight novels so far since 1993.) But then again, Brattleboro itself, a few feet from New Hampshire and maybe eight miles north of Massachusetts, is barely set in Vermont.

In any case, I did enjoy the book, and definitely will move on to Borderline, the second in the series. (Curiously, Boyle’s fifth novel is titled Borderlines.) By now, as I understand it, Gunther is up to his 16th adventure and, Brattleboro apparently having proven too non-violent, he roams all over the state working for the V.B.I. Which (according to Google) does not exist in real life — a search for the phrase "Vermont Bureau of" brings up the final word "Agriculture."

I’ve never thought about charting a map of the U.S. with my favorite book set in each state: for Vermont, it probably would be the fantastic novel Disappearances (1977), by Howard Frank Mosher. Which, incidentally, came to town last month as a movie premiere, along with a fancy reception, and concert by the film’s star Kris Kristofferson. (All of which cost about $100, total, so I was not present at the festivities.)

You could do the same for detectives. Immediately these fine gentlemen come to mind: Spenser in Boston, Travis McGee in Fort Lauderdale, Nero Wolfe in New York City, Elvis Cole in Hollywood, Rick Shannon in the Mississippi Delta, Philip Marlow and Easy Rawlins in Los Angeles, and, of course, Frank and Joe, the Hardy Boys, in Bayport… New York? Connecticut? New Jersey?

This site includes its own Top Ten list of reasons why it’s Bayport, New York. The most convincing reason? I guess you can’t argue with "It is called Bayport."

* * *

p.s. I really liked Open Season. I must say, though, that whoever did the proofreading at G. P. Putnam’s Sons was much less skillful than the author. Sentences abound like "I had been his perefect implement." "Both of Frank’s hand were tight on the steering wheel." "… it pumped blood onto Katz’s snowny boot…" and my favorite, "We arrived in two squad cards."

About RPS

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