The Orphan’s Guilt (Joe Gunther) by Archer Mayor
Date: 29 September 2020
John Rust is an alcoholic who has spent most of his life taking care of his severely handicapped younger brother, Peter. When Peter dies, John loses all hope for living and embarks on a drinking binge that inevitably has him arrested for another DUI in a long line of many.
Scott Jezek, a lawyer in Battleboro, Vermont, endeavors to keep John out of prison. He engages the help of PI Sally Kravitz and VBI Special Agent Joe Gunther. They soon discover that Peter’s illness was brought on when he was cruelly abused as a baby. His death is viewed as a potential homicide. Soon afterwards, John disappears and a man’s corpse is found lying in a ditch. Joe Gunther and his team of investigators learn that Peter’s death is connected to a white collar crime involving the theft of corporate funds.
Archer Mayor’s The Orphan’s Guilt is the first installment I’ve read in the highly successful, long-running Joe Gunther mystery series. I took a deep breath and jumped into the story. I figured this must be a good series if it has thirty-one entries. I enjoyed reading The Orphan’s Guilt. I could’ve kicked myself for not having read earlier installments when I had the opportunity.
Though this mystery doesn’t have a high body count, which I crave like chocolate candy, it does have a tremendous amount of emotional drama and heartache. Upon learning about Peter’s death, I became passionately entangled in the story. The characters were rather fascinating. The unfortunate John Rust comes from a family of poor white trailer trash that mysteriously got their hands on some money and moved from the slums of Springfield, Vermont into the more respectable neighborhoods of nearby Westminster.
Joe Gunther is an admirable hero. However, in this installment, I almost felt he didn’t receive top billing. Joe was outshined by his employee Willy Kunkle who is handicapped; he has a withered arm from having been shot in the shoulder. He is sometimes brusque, rude, and crass, but he can also be compassionate. Willy often wears disguises in order to apprehend villains who are larger than him. There are some other good characters such as Scott Jezek, the lawyer with the heart of gold. I marveled at the unlikely friendship between PI Sally Kravitz and reporter Rachel Reiling. Whenever these two young women were together, having a good time, each one had to be careful about revealing too much confidential information about the cases and stories on which they were working.
This novel also has a vast assortment of evil characters. Two of them are in John Rust’s own family. His mom, Karen Taylor was a scheming seductress before she died of a drug overdose. John’s father, Daryl Hicks, was abusive, slimy trailer trash who abandoned him and his brother, Peter, when he turned eighteen. Then there is the mysterious killer who tortured the man who was found dead in a ditch. Could it be John, seeking revenge, or someone else? Could a man who sacrificed his life while expertly caring for his younger, handicapped sibling be able to torture and murder someone? Why has John abruptly disappeared before his court hearing? Everyone is searching for him. The tension mounts when another major character mysteriously disappears.
Our past sins have a way of catching up with us. This is clearly evident in Archer Mayor’s well-researched police procedural, The Orphan’s Guilt. Set against a beautiful backdrop of Vermont countryside in early Spring, this is an intensely emotional novel of greed, lust, betrayal, and revenge. It has a beginning that is heartbreaking and an ending that is truly heartwarming. In between, we have a twisty, soap opera-like drama that is gently peppered with some violence. Readers are introduced to some unique characters, some of which are unforgettable.
Would I like to read another Joe Gunther novel? You bet I would. If I had the time, I’d read Gunther’s past adventures. Unfortunately, there are too many books and too little time in which to read them. In order to prevent a case of reader’s guilt, I will definitely commit myself to reading Mayor’s next mystery.