Cover image for Occam's razor
Occam's razor
Mayor, Archer.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Mysterious Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
339 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Grand Island Library X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
Lancaster Library X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense

On Order



Vermont police detective Joe Gunther facesa twisted and far-reaching case involving the murder of a trucker, the death of a blackmailing hooker, and the threat of deadly toxins.

Author Notes

Archer Mayor lives in Newfane, Vermont.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The adage of Occam's razor reminds us that when weighing competing theories, the simplest may be best. Lieutenant Joe Gunther of the Brattleboro, Vermont, PD has to keep reminding himself of the proverb as the bodies pile up and possible linkages between seemingly unrelated crimes multiply. A man's body is carefully placed on railroad tracks so that the scheduled freight train mashes the head and hands. Meanwhile, a state legislator who is campaigning to unify Vermont's fragmented police agencies has his office burgled, and Gunther is tipped that the legislator is involved in illegal dumping of hazardous waste. To add to the confusion, Gunther's best detective becomes erratic in her work, and Gunther is having romance problems. Mayor is a gifted storyteller, and his books always offer well-crafted characters, skillful storytelling, and one of the strongest senses of place in the mystery genre. This one won't disappoint, and a lyrical 200-word description of a Brattleboro snowfall might be the sweetest, most knowing 200 words of the year. --Thomas Gaughan

Publisher's Weekly Review

Mayor's sturdy series about police lieutenant Joe Gunther of Brattleboro, Vt., has much more on its mind than just mystery. Each book tackles at least one important social issue, from the encroachment of the Russian mafia to the impact on New England of smuggled Chinese immigrants. The 10th in the series (after 1998's The Disposable Man) is no exception: toxic waste is a major subject, and so is the political infighting surrounding a plan to drastically change the way Vermont's many police agencies are run. Gunther and his believably mixed bag of investigators also have to deal with the murder of a man left unconscious on a railroad track, the knifing death of a woman living on the fringes of the law and a series of phone calls that implicate an ambitious politician in both crimes. Meanwhile, Guther's living arrangements with prosecutor Gail Zigman are under severe strain, and two of his top detectives are having romantic problems as well. All the story strings are woven with the common sense and low-key heroics that characterize the series, but Mayor's greatest strength remains his uncanny ability to capture the seedy, seamy sides of life in his home state of VermontÄfrom evil-smelling public housing projects to factories and workshops rusting away behind the scenic but deceptively pretty greenery. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Series homicide detective Joe Gunther (The Disposable Man) investigates two separate but particularly grisly murders in Brattleboro. An anonymous call soon links a local politician to both. A solid procedural. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One It was colder without the snow, and felt darker as a result. Even with the starlight and the feeble seepage from the streetlamps around the corner, my eyes took longer to adjust than I expected. The police officer at the bottom of the Arch Street alley looked up at me quizzically as I hesitated beside the car, my hands burrowing deep inside my pockets. "You okay, Lieutenant?" He was stringing a yellow "Police Line" tape across the way. I shuddered and nodded, walking down the paved incline, careful of its neglected, broken surface. "Sure, Bobby. Still half asleep." He lifted the tape to let me pass. "Know what you mean. I been on nights for a week already. Still can't get used to it." He was fresh from the academy, eager and curious, and, if statistics were any guide, destined to learn the ropes with us and then either enter the private sector, disillusioned and bored, or angle a job with the state police, assuming he passed their scrutiny. "Who's here already?" I asked him. "Detectives Klesczewski and Tyler. Officer Lavoie's with them. Sheila Kelly's closing the other end off." I smiled at his titling everyone except Sheila. It wasn't sexist. She'd been his supervisor before we'd let him loose on his own. She was the reverse of the trend, ten years with the Burlington PD, come to us in search of a slightly mellower pace. Bobby Miller looked to her as a kid might to an older sister. I continued to the corner, where the Main Street buildings above and behind me showed their backs to the train tracks and the Connecticut River beyond. Typical of many old red-brick New England towns, Brattleboro, Vermont, faced away from the serenity and beauty of the river, having chosen well over a hundred and fifty years ago to regard both it and the railroad paralleling it as unsightly commercial conduits. In its heyday, this stretch of ground, unseen by the gentry, had been a coarse and bustling string of loading docks and receiving bays, feeding businesses two floors above, whose windows had glittered with the primped and polished end results. Now the area was forlorn and ignored, a parking place for Dumpsters, the homeless, and teenagers seeking illicit time alone. High overhead, out of sight in the gloom, dotting the curved, fortresslike wall following the river's bend, were hundreds of dingy rear apartments, an increasing number of which were being transformed into tastefully renovated lofts or rendered into peaceful, sunlit havens by the town's excess of psychologists and therapists--drawn to the very scenery that their predecessors had ignored. Most, however, still belonged to the marginally solvent--welfare dwellers holed up in small, dark, cluttered dens, surrounded by commerce and benefiting from none of it. With theatrical abruptness, a tripod-mounted halogen lamp burst the darkness ahead of me with a brief electrical hiss. It was facing away from me, down and across the tracks, so the effect wasn't blinding, but more fancifully melodramatic. Its harsh light destroyed any subtlety or nuance, revealing everything in its arc in angular, brittle starkness--while consigning everything outside it to simple nonexistence. The soiled, damaged brick walls, the cinder- stained gravel of the railroad bed, the parallel crescent of gleaming tracks, and the flat black slab of river water beyond--all were briefly frozen in that initial flash of light, like a startled, disheveled partygoer caught in the glare of an instant camera. And just as quickly, it all became mere background to the item at center stage--and the reason for our gathering in the middle of a freezing January night. Perpendicular to the outermost track, his feet toward the river, lay a man in a thick, long, dirty coat. He had no head or hands--they'd all been resting on the track when the last train had passed by, and what was left of them didn't merit much description. But they lent the scene its one source of bright color, and to the entire picture a grim sense of purpose. Standing over the body was Ron Klesczewski, that night's detective on call. J. P. Tyler, our forensics man, had just plugged in the lamp. He moved away from its glare and joined me in the darkness, like a technician stepping offstage to check his work. "I didn't see calling the paramedics. Got hold of everybody else--the ME, the SA's office, more backup. Gail not on tonight?" Gail Zigman was a deputy state's attorney, and the woman I lived with. "No," I answered. "I forgot to ask who was when I left." I gestured with my chin down the tracks. "What've we got?" Tyler shrugged. "Little early to tell, and I don't want to do too much before the ME gets here, but it looks like a bum who ran out of rope." "Suicide?" I asked mildly. "Probably. Although you don't usually find them with their hands on the track." Before moving any closer, I said, more to myself than to him, "Unless he was already dead." Three hours later, with the sky still black at winter's insistence, I brought a cup of coffee into Tony Brandt's office and settled tiredly into one of his guest chairs. Brandt was our chief of police and had been for years on end. A born administrator, a natural politician, and a cop his entire professional life, he was probably far more skilled than we deserved. I wondered sometimes if he'd ever realize how much better he could do than a twenty-four-person police force, or when someone like the governor might wake up and draft him to work in Montpelier as the head of some huge agency. It was ironic that we lost less- talented people than Tony all the time but kept hold of a man whose blueprint for community policing was slowly being emulated across the entire country. But there was a canniness to Tony Brandt that implied that none of this was accidental. A good friend to many and affable to most, he remained both private and quietly driven, leaving the impression that he was looking at us all--and at himself in our company--in some kind of grand context. He now sat back in his chair, his feet up on his desk, his hands interlocked behind his head. He looked at me impassively through frameless bifocals. "This something to worry about?" It was an interesting choice of words--a politically savvy variation on the question I'd asked Tyler earlier. "Could be. It looks like suicide. No signs of a struggle, no other obvious trauma to the body. No one we've canvassed so far has owned up to hearing anything. It might be that easy." "Except ..." he suggested. I held up my hand in protest. "No, no. Except nothing. That's all we've got so far. He's been shipped up to Burlington for an autopsy, Tyler's still poking around the scene, and the canvass is ongoing. Any one of a couple of hundred people could've seen or heard something. I'm just saying we're not done yet." He watched me without comment while I sipped from my cup, knowing what he'd say next. We went back far enough to find comfort in such oblique communication. "What's really on your mind?" I placed the cup on the corner of his desk. "He might be a suicide. He might also have been tossed from a flying saucer, and his blood replaced with food dye. But as suicides go, it's a little unusual. He had nothing in his pockets-- and I mean nothing at all--and while his clothes were filthy, his underpants were snowy white." He knew better than to debate the worth of such evidence. "Okay. Keep me informed." I climbed the stairs slowly, one hand on the banister, by now feeling the lack of sleep. I'd entered the building from the front, using a nondescript door to the right of a clothing store. The double row of weathered, ornate buildings lining Brattleboro's main drag often reminded me of two ancient beached battleships--huge, rusty, and abandoned by modern needs, but also too big and reminiscent of past glories to be replaced. By design and through countless renovations, therefore, they'd been renovated, modernized, and brought up to code until no two floors looked alike, making passage through their innards like an archaeological field trip. This particular building was clearer-cut than some, and less invaded by yuppies. Above the clothing store, a start-up lawyer and a downscale barber shared the second floor. Farther up were apartments only, inhabited by those whose life options hovered between few and none. If I hadn't already known this from too many past visits, the fetid odor now enveloping me left little room for doubt. One thing about winter--it does stifle any impulse to throw open a window to the fresh air. Ron Klesczewski's head appeared over the railing of the top-floor landing-- clean-shaven, fresh-faced, even after having been up most of the night. "Hi, Joe. It's up here." He vanished again, allowing me to continue climbing in solitude. Ron had almost resigned a few years ago, after a particularly traumatic shoot-out with some heavily armed Asians. Tentative to begin with, he'd turned inward for a short time thereafter, not coming to work, ignoring his young, pregnant wife. In those days, he'd been my second-in-command, a position I'd realized then had only added to his stress. Giving him time--and his responsibilities to Sammie Martens--had done the trick. He'd reemerged much as before, if anything more solid, and had resumed being our premier logistics man--chasing paperwork, checking records, and keeping the department's revamped computer system up to date. There were several apartments feeding onto the top landing, but only one with its door wide open, at the end of a long, narrow corridor leading straight to the rear of the building. I headed that way, following the sound of voices. I had four detectives under my command, Sammie and Willy Kunkle being the two I had yet to see this morning. I knew they were out there working. But just as it was typical of Ron to have called me about the woman I was about to meet, so was it that neither Willy nor Sam had even bothered to check in, much less give me an update. Totally unalike in other respects, they were as passionately independent as Ron was a team player. On those rare occasions when all four were acting up, I felt like the single mother of a dysfunctional family. Klesczewski reappeared in the doorway and ushered me across the threshold, introducing me to a blade-faced old woman propped up in the far corner of a ratty sofa. "Mrs. Edith Rudd. Lieutenant Gunther." We eyed each other across the close, cluttered room and nodded politely. Ron kept his voice pleasantly upbeat. "Edith has been telling me she might have something to add to our investigation, but she wanted to make sure she only spoke to the man in charge." Great, I thought. "That you?" Her voice took me back to my first viewing of The Wizard of Oz and the Wicked Witch of the West. She certainly seemed to have the same aversion to water. "Yes, ma'am." I crossed over to her, grabbing a chair from under the kitchen table as I went. The apartment was an efficiency, each wall staking claim to a different domestic function--bedroom, living room, kitchen, or bathroom--and each losing its identity just a foot or two into the room, where a generalized heaping of disassociated jetsam defeated all rhyme or reason. It looked like a neighborhood tag sale right after the last shopper had torn it apart. I placed the chair opposite her and sat down. "What would you like to tell me?" She shook her head emphatically, as I feared she might. "Not so fast. I don't want to do this again. I tell you once, here and now, and that's an end to it." I tried looking sympathetic. "We'll try to make it work that way, but since I don't know what you're going to tell me, I can't make any promises." It was like throwing meat to a wolf. She leaned forward, her face pinched around a pair of glittering eyes. "Just what I thought. They do that at the hospital, too. I'm no whiner. It takes a lot to get me down. So when I call for help, I'm in real pain. And I don't trust them to begin with, so why would I go see them unless I was really hurting?" I nodded without comment, since I had no idea what she was talking about. "But when they come in here from the ambulance, putting their hands all over me, they always ask me a bunch of stupid questions like they think I'm making it up. You think they even listen to what I'm saying?" "Yes, I do," I had to admit. She held up a yellow, skinny finger. "Well, you don't know much. They may write down a lot of stuff, but the doctors at the ER throw it out. You know why?" I remained rigidly uncommitted. It didn't matter. She stared at me as if I'd just called her a liar. "So they can ask me the same dumb questions all over again. I asked them why they do it, and they told me they wanted to make sure I didn't leave anything out. Can you believe that? Like it's my fault they won't listen." I got the point. I held up my hand like a traffic cop and spoke loudly to interrupt her. "Tonight, I promise no one will ever ask you the same questions again." She stopped in midsentence. "You do?" I glanced at Ron, who looked as startled as she did. "Yes," I said. "Now, what did you see or hear that might help us out?" Her entire demeanor changed from the outraged citizen to the confidential source. Her body relaxed, curving toward me, and she turned her head slightly away from Ron, as if excluding him from the conversation. "It was creepy," she said softly. "I bet it was." I matched her whisper. "Can you describe it?" She motioned to me to lean into the acrid odor surrounding her like a fog. Our noses were almost touching by now. "I thought it was aliens at first. It was their talking that woke me up. They had a big bright light, bright enough to bounce right off that ceiling." She glanced up sideways, reliving the moment. "I could see that man, with no head and no hands, and them around him. And then they began doing things to him ..." She paused as Ron edged toward the front door, shaking his head with disgust. "What?" Her voice had regained its querulous pitch. "That was us," he told her. Edith Rudd straightened and looked at me, startled and uncertain. "What?" she repeated, this time sounding more like a surprised child. I reached out and laid my hand on hers. "What you saw was the police trying to figure out what happened," I explained, as Ron left the room, no doubt hoping to escape his own embarrassment. "We needed that light to see better." She continued watching my eyes, and I held her gaze, smiling slightly. Suddenly her tears welled up. "It looked so terrible." "I know, Mrs. Rudd. I'm sorry you had to see it, and I'm sorry we woke you up." She glanced away to the floor and sighed, her whole body trembling slightly with the effort. "Thank you," she almost whispered. I squeezed her hand, feeling the sharpness of her knuckles under my thumb. "Thank you for trying to help." She looked back at me then. "What's your name again?" "Joe Gunther." "I was awake before then--before the light came on. I wasn't really sleeping." I nodded encouragingly. "Bad night?" "I have a lot of them. I was looking out the window at the stars in the river when I saw them. They pulled him out of a car and put him on the tracks, just the way you found him." "He didn't resist?" "I think he was dead already. They laid him out like he was a sofa pillow." "How many?" "Three that I could see." I gestured to the nearby window, narrow and smudged, and raised my eyebrows. "You mind?" I rose and peered through the glass. The apartment was almost directly above where we'd spent the early morning hours. "Were you able to recognize or see any of them clearly?" I asked her. She shook her head. "They were all in coats and hats. And it was dark." "How about when any of them passed in front of the headlights? Did you see anything unusual then?" "There were no headlights. That's why I started looking in the first place. Cars drive along the tracks at night all the time--dopers, prostitutes, you name it. But they all use their headlights till they park. When I noticed this one being so secretive, I got curious." She stopped again and rubbed her cheek with her palm. "I wish I hadn't." "What time was this, Mrs. Rudd?" "Around one, I guess." "Did you hear anything?" There was dead silence in the room. I heard Ron's footsteps returning from the landing, and hoped he wouldn't alter the mood. But he was hypersensitive by now, and stopped before coming into view. Finally Edith Rudd sat back in her seat, as if suddenly releasing an enormous weight. "I heard the train." I returned to my chair. "My God. You saw it happen?" She seemed more sure of herself now, almost surprised at how easy it had been. "The train blocked the view, but I saw the before and after." "And the men in the car?" "They'd left by then. The train comes by at one-thirty every night. They waited a little while after laying him out, probably checking to see if anyone saw them, but then they drove off." "What kind of car was it?" A small flash of irritation crossed her face, and I sensed she was recovering. "It was nighttime." I smiled and shook my head, trying to regain her confidence. "No, no. I'm sorry. I didn't mean what make or model," I lied. "I wondered if you could tell whether it was a station wagon or a sedan, light or dark, large or small--something like that." "Oh. Let's see. I guess it was a large sedan, I suppose dark-colored, but there I'm not so sure." I rose to my feet and shook her hand. "Thank you, Mrs. Rudd. You've been a big help. Are you sure you're feeling okay? This must've been a shock." She answered by struggling out of the sofa's grip and escorting me to the door, tapping me on the elbow as we went. "I'm fine. I'm a tough old bird." I paused at the door, aware of Ron fading out of earshot down the hall again. "Why did you tell us that tall tale earlier? You knew it was us down there with the light. I bet you even recognized me." She smiled coquettishly, revealing a row of darkened, misshapen teeth, and tilted her head in Ron's direction. "I could tell he didn't like me. And he called me Edith, just like the nurses and ambulance people." Copyright © 1999 Archer Mayor. All rights reserved.

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