"Tag Man" by Archer Mayor
Minotaur, 290 pp., $25.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
As if everyone weren't already all up in your business in this golden age of electronic snooping and tracking, detective novel writer (some would term the novel a "police procedural") Archer Mayor presents a voyeur who can circumvent alarms and check out your fridge in the dead of night.
(All the more reason why a dog can be your best friend.)
Indeed, that is this uninvited guest's calling card, as it were-- raiding fridges, preferably for champagne and caviar, as he tends to target high-end abodes. All the more to prowl around in, in a large house.
Plus, he likes to leave a Post-It note as a "you've been tagged" notice, preferably on some embarassing item on a bedside nightstand.
This game of nocturnal peekaboo proves delicious fun for this intruder, until he goes beyond his apres-midnight snacking and begins lifting incriminating items during his crash visitations.
For instance, he shouldn't have taken those secretly stashed papers from a home office.
Nor should he have removed selections from that bizarre cache of photographs in another residence.
People who've been "tagged" by this man and who have a whole lot to lose, as tied to the things he's taken from them, are going to turn the game of tag against him.
This plot makes for exciting fare, enough so to extricate VBI (that's Vermont Bureau of Investigation) lead detective (for the Brattleboro Office, that is) Joe Gunther from a major personal funk.
IOW: He's back in the saddle again.
The Brattleboro VBI Office consists of a sort-of "upstairs/downstairs" organization, as it coexists in the same building as the local PD.
Nevertheless, the gumshoes and the flatfoots play well with and against one another. Unsurprisingly, funds are low and staff is limited.
They're aware of the Tag Man, but his shenanigans don't deal a high-stakes hand until a hitman is found floating face-up in a rocky brook in the midst of Brattleboro. Talk about vice becoming versa.
Author Archer Mayor, a Vermont native, depicts his settings with a strong sense of history, of changing times and inhabitants, of abandoned landscapes and modern influences, good and bad.
His title character holds the reader's attention-- and, largely, empathy-- a thief with a complexly unbalanced psyche who can nevertheless observe and intuit things that the best-trained and most-seasoned detective cannot.
Part of the "big picture" here is that there's just a hair's breadth difference between acting in the greater good and crossing to the wrong side of the law.
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