PARADISE CITY By Archer Mayor Minotaur Books www.archermayor.com Fall in New England has its staples: colorful foliage, football, pumpkin and squash harvests, and a new Joe Gunther mystery.
Gunther is the Brattleboro, Vt., detective at the heart of an ongoing series by Archer Mayor, himself a death investigator and sheriff’s deputy near Brattleboro. Mayor has earned praise over the years for his accurate depiction of police work — The New York Times calls him “the boss man on procedures” — and he’s been cranking out a Joe Gunther novel pretty much every autumn since 1988.
Valley fans of Mayor’s work will get an extra treat with the release of “Paradise City,” the 23rd Gunther mystery. That’s Paradise City as in Northampton, which plays a central role in Mayor’s narrative as something more than just a groovy college town: It’s also a mysterious nexus for jewelry thieves from across New England.
In Vermont, Gunther and his team on the VBI — the Vermont Bureau of Investigation — are trying to connect the dots between a series of break-ins across the state. Meanwhile, an elderly woman in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood is murdered when she surprises a trio of thieves in her tony apartment. Soon Gunther’s crew and a Boston police detective discover that these seemingly unrelated incidents may be connected: Word on the street is that someone very powerful in Northampton is paying good money to purchase stolen antiques and jewelry.
Gunther calls his old friend Dan Siegel, Northampton’s veteran police chief (and something of a stand-in for the city’s real top cop, Russ Sienkiewicz) and before long Vermont, Boston and Northampton investigators have teamed up to track the elusive jewelry fencers, from Hadley to Amherst to Northampton to Holyoke, where one of the Beacon Hill thieves turns up dead in a stolen car.
Gunther & Co. must deal with another wild card: The vengeful granddaughter of the murdered Boston woman, unhappy with police response to her grandmother’s death, is also in Northampton trying to find the killers, possibly jeopardizing the investigation — and her own life in the process.
Though Mayor’s series has sometimes touched down briefly in the Valley, this is the first to be set largely in the region, and local readers will likely get a kick out of the portrait of Northampton and wonder who might be the inspiration for some of the characters.
Mayor will read from and sign copies of “Paradise City” Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley. There will also be a book-release party Oct. 10 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at The Roost, on the corner of Market and Bridge streets in Northampton. Both events are free.
DARKENING THE GRASS By Michael Miller CavanKerry Press Ltd.
www.cavankerrypress.org Northampton poet Michael Miller found his creative muse late in life. Now in his 80s, Miller has published three volumes of poetry in recent years and has seen his work appear in The Kenyon Review, The New Republic, The Yale Review and other publications. His first book, “The Joyful Dark,” was the “Editor’s Choice” winner of the McGovern Prize at Ashland Poetry Press.
In his third collection, “Darkening the Grass,” published by CavanKerry Press of Fort Lee, N.J., Miller looks with careful focus at a number of subjects: love and marriage, war and violence, aging and death. His mood can be somber and reflective or quietly content; sometimes there’s a fear of death, as in “The Results,” where the narrator wonders if his final decision in life will be “Whether to die / In an unrestful hospital room / Or whether to lift the pistol / From beneath the shirts in his drawer, / Place it against his temple / And squeeze.” Miller, a onetime U.S. Marine, also writes movingly about the horror and pain of war, particularly from the perspective of modern soldiers — some with crippling injuries — back from the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. In “Lieutenant Dempsey,” a veteran looks at his sleeping wife and hopes he’ll find a way to leave his memories of combat behind: “Pretend it will not affect / How you live this day, / That the call of the blue jay / Perched on a pine branch / Will not remind you / Of an incoming mortar / Before it explodes.” In the end, he writes, all that’s left is love and the hope that it will carry him and his wife through their remaining days. The narrator of “Flight” finds beauty in nature, as well as a fantasy: “He imagines ... his wife with / Wings, her long white body lifting from / A sunlit pond and gliding toward him. / He wishes he could be a bird / Flying beside her, leaving their / Aging bodies and the shortening days. / He would like them to die together, / Pressed close, like feathers.” Miller will read from “Darkening the Grass” Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. at Broadside Bookshop in Northampton. He will be joined by Amherst poet Wally Swist, who will read from his new book, “Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love.” To submit material for Book Bag, contact Steve Pfarrer at email@example.com.