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The Tag Man
Joe Gunther Mystery, No 22
Archer Mayor

Minotaur Books
September 27, 2011 / ISBN: 0312681941
Police Procedure / Vermont / Contemporary

Reviewed by L J Roberts

First Sentence: He sat in the center of the love seat, in the darkened bedroom, settled against the soft pillows behind him.

The MacMansion set of Brattleboro, VT have experienced recent intrusions by someone who circumvents their high-end security systems, raids their pantry and fridge for fine food and leaves behind a Post-it which simply says “TAG.” Not usually one to steal, the Tag Man was so annoyed by the treatment by one victim toward his wife, Tag Man did take some papers from the desk just to let the victim know Tag Man had been there. At another house, he finds a hidden suitcase containing graphic photos and clothes of, what appears to be, murder victims. These discoveries leave the Tag Man is running for his life from both the police and other villains.

By their 22nd book, some authors start to lose the originality and sparkle to which you were originally attracted. Definitely not true with Archer Mayor. He knows how to take every element important to writing a top-notch mystery and combines it into an original plot with fascinating characters and excellent dialogue. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

From the opening sentence, Mayor creates, not just a strong sense of place, but the mood of the scene. He also, throughout the story, knows how to convey a sense of dread and suspense to the point where you find yourself holding your breath waiting to see what will happen.

The characters are very well drawn and real. New characters come to life, characters we’ve met briefly in the past are seamlessly incorporated again, and the central characters are introduced to new readers with just enough of their history so that you know who they are and where they are in their lives, even if this is the first book by Mayor you’ve read. At the same time, the central characters are not at all stagnant through the series, or even this book; they grow, develop and change as a result of events in each plot.

They are people you want to know.

The plot is so well done even for all its slight quirkiness. It’s always odd to find one self-cheering for one of the supposed villains, but there are enough real villains to hiss at as well.

Mayor is one of my favorite types of authors. In the approximately 300 pages, he created a story I didn’t want to stop reading one I’d started. “The Tag Man” is filled with great characters, excellent dialogue, great suspense scenes, and a satisfying, if somewhat unusual ending leading us to a future book but without being a traditional cliffhanger.

It was wonderful to see this book be the first of the series to reach the New York Times Best Seller List. What I can’t understand is why not all of his books have. Well done, Mr. Mayor.

Reviewed 2011
© 2011