Review: ‘The Fall Guy’ accurately portrays police procedures

“Fall Guy” by Archer Mayor (Minotaur)

A Mercedes sedan, stolen a few days earlier in New Hampshire, is found abandoned in Vermont. It is crammed with stolen goods from a two-state crime spree. And in the trunk, police find a body.

The victim turns out to be the thief, a low-life named Don Kalfus.

Included among the loot are six cell phones. On one of them, police find pornographic images of a pre-teen girl. On another, they discover a clue to a decade-old child abduction that was never solved. So from the very start of “The Fall Guy,” Archer Mayor’s 33rd police procedural featuring Joe Gunther, Commander of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, the hero has a complex case on his hands.

Among other things, he needs to learn who Kalfus had been stealing from, whether one of his victims might have killed him, who the child in the photos is, and how to use the unexpected clue to crack the old abduction case.

Furthermore, because the crimes occurred over wide swaths of Vermont and New Hampshire, Gunther and his team, an ensemble cast familiar to Mayor’s readers, must negotiate delicate jurisdictional issues among a host of local and state law enforcement agencies.

Mayor has a well-deserved reputation for accurately portraying police procedures, from investigative techniques to bureaucratic wrangling. That skill, sharpened in his day job as an investigator for the Vermont Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, is on full display in “The Fall Guy.”

Occasionally, however, he may take this a bit too far. For example, the way Gunther negotiates the jurisdictional issues would have been interesting if they grew contentious, but he is so good at it that the author’s meticulous accounts briefly slow the suspenseful plot to a crawl.

Because the primary victim, Kalfus, is in no way sympathetic and because nearly everyone the investigators encounter in their work is a lowlife, the reader is unlikely to develop an emotional stake in the outcome. The novel’s primary appeal lies in an appreciation of the skill with which Gunther and his team work to methodically tie up all the loose ends of this complex case.

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Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, is the author of the Mulligan crime novels including “The Dread Line.”

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