Lieutenant Joe Gunther, of the Brattleboro police department in Vermont, is called to the scene of the crime when an old lady, Thelma Reitz, has apparently shot dead an intruder, a man who has been tormenting her over the past few weeks and had threatened to attack her that very night. It rapidly becomes apparent that the man had been set up – someone else had sent threatening messages and tricked him into going to the house at the right time. Oddly, both Thelma and the victim both served on the same jury a few years back on a murder case – and some of the other jurors are similarly implicated in such incidents.
Gunther soon realises that this is all a plan to re-open the case. But who would go to such extreme measures to find the murderer of a young woman? And how much further will they go?
This is the first book in a series of twenty two books featuring Joe Gunther and a clear candidate for Vermont in my Mystery Tour of the USA. But my reasons for reading it are much sillier than that.
Since investing in my Kindle, I’ve accumulated a lot of free and very cheap mysteries. Some have been outstanding, some have not. But when browsing through the menu the other day, I noticed that I’d managed to purchase two books with the same title – Open Season – by Archer Mayor and C J Box. So, for no good reason, this is the first instalment in Open Season Season.
Two Books, One Title, Only One Will Survive… sort of.
Well, to use a football metaphor, it’s looking pretty promising for C J Box already, as this one has unfortunately scored an own goal.
The book opens very promisingly. It’s very fast moving and the premise is intriguing. Why are the jurors being targeted in such bizarre ways? What did the one juror – the only one who was unsure about convicting the “murderer” – do to deserve being killed? Why are only some of the jurors being targeted?
Unfortunately, this is only the beginning section of the story, and the answers to those questions are, in order, lazy, dull and ignored. Indeed, even before Gunther realises the bizarre reason for the crimes – namely to reopen the case – he doesn’t even bother to check up on the other jurors to see if they’re OK.
And then we get to the actual cold case… and Joe investigates a few leads, some bad things happen, the mysterious “Ski Mask” turns up now and again, and things get resolved. There’s not a whiff of mystery in the story – nowhere, until the revelations are made, is there any hint of what is about to be revealed, but, at the end of the day, none of the revelations are particularly stunning.
Time to take another swipe at the blurb writers – or, at least in this case, the cover designer. It says that this is a “Joe Gunther Mystery”. No, it isn’t. It’s a “Joe Gunther Thriller”, if anything. But I have to say, after the first section, I didn’t find it particularly thrilling either. Not a series that I’ll be rushing back to.
This really does sound like one of those books where the basic premise was the only thing that was in any way thought out and the rest just cobbled together – I’m always amazed that stuff like this even gets published nowadays, given that, by the sound of it, an average episode of NCIS probably has twice as much plot and four times the entertainment factor! I am considering myself warned! Having said that, I wonder if the series has improved over the years because according to the author’s website (http://www.archermayor.com/) there are now 22 books in the series (!) and the Chicago Tribune described them as “the best police procedurals being written in America”!
I was wondering about “first book” syndrome, and there is an interesting foreword by the author talking about the writing process – there were two or three major re-writes, apparently.
I think if I was a dutiful professional reviewer, I’d check out one of the later books – and there are indeed 22 of them. But that’s a big if when I’ve got so much else that’s more tempting on my TBR pile…
You could always skip to the 22nd and see if you spot any real improvement …
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