In Archer Mayor's intriguing new Vermont-based mystery, The Orphan's Guilt, a straightforward traffic stop snowballs into a homicide investigation after Joe Gunther and his fellow investigators peel back layer upon layer of history and personal heartbreak to learn a decades-old hidden truth.
John Rust is arrested for drunk driving by a Vermont state trooper. Looking to find mitigating circumstances, John’s lawyer hires private eye Sally Kravitz to look into the recent death of John’s younger brother, purportedly from a childhood brain injury years earlier. But what was the nature of that injury, and might its mechanism point more to murder than to natural causes? That debate brings in Joe Gunther and his team.
Gunther’s efforts quickly uncover an ancient tale of avarice, betrayal, and vengeance that swirled around the Rust boys growing up. Their parents and the people they consorted with—forgotten, relentless, but now jolted to action by this simple set of circumstances—emerge with a destructive passion. All while the presumably innocent John Rust mysteriously vanishes with no explanation.
Bestseller Mayer's solid 31st Joe Gunther novel (after 2019's Bomber's Moon) begins with a DUI arrest along a Vermont road. The case of John Rust, a repeat offender, appears to be open and shut, until his lawyer, hotshot Brattleboro defense attorney Scott Jezek, angles for a way to appeal to the jury's sympathy. Jezek hires PI Sally Kravitz to check out the death of John's invalid brother, Peter, to whom he was devoted, on the day of John's arrest. Peter's death was apparently the result of complications of a childhood brain injury, but Kravitz comes up with evidence suggesting it was murder as she uncovers the troubling truth behind Peter's condition and John's drinking. Gunther, head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, and his team step in to investigate. Meanwhile, someone has come a long way to finish his business with the Rust brothers, and he has little to lose after so many years. Mayer expertly intertwines murder with a view of life off the beaten path. This long-running series continues to impress.