Joe Gunther, of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, celebrates his 30th outing by handing off detective honors to a pair of women who don’t even work for him.
Nothing, it seems, could be more routine than the murder of Lyall Johnson, a nothingburger drug dealer apparently stabbed to death by his sometime buddy Brandon Leggatt in the middle of a deal gone bad. Leggatt tells Joe he didn’t kill Johnson, but then he would, wouldn’t he? Although the police miss out entirely on a second murder when someone dispatches elderly Homer Nelson so expertly that the body has been cremated before anybody thinks to question the verdict of natural death, they’re all over the shooting of Alex Robin Hale, a resourceful, ego-driven thief whose body is found in the Connecticut River. But not as all over it as private eye Sally Kravitz, who finds herself drawn to Hale by her father, who’s spent years breaking into people’s houses not to steal anything but to study their lifestyles, and Rachel Reiling, a photographer-turned-reporter at the Brattleboro Reformer whose one meeting with Hale, who’d offered to collaborate with her on a feature story on the promises and limitations of online security, turned from intriguing to sinister when he was killed shortly afterward. Eventually all these trails lead to Thorndike Academy, a tony prep school whose growing pains, already multiplied by rifts among the board members over wealthy Jonathan Marotti’s offer to spring for a new $15 million building, turn out to be only the most visible symptoms of problems that run much deeper. After spinning his wheels while Sally and Rachel dig up the dirt, Joe gets to conduct a climactic interrogation that reveals Thorndike as a cesspool just as noxious as corporate grocer GreenField in Joe’s most recent case (Bury the Lead, 2018, etc.).
Average for this venerable series, with few surprises but a nice sense of gradually deepening evil.