Joe Gunther is emotionally adrift in a sea of pain and despair as this latest in the long series opens. He is on leave from the Vermont Bureau of Investigation while he tries to cope with the death of his love, Lyn Silva. It wasn’t the first time being involved with Joe Gunther resulted in pain and/or death. Not only is he feeling the loss keenly, Joe also feels responsible and is questioning the decisions he has made over the years doing the job he does and what those decisions have cost him and those closest to him.
Because he is on leave, his team of Sammie, Willy, and Lester have been left to function as best as they can without his steadying influence. An influence that in the past has saved careers, certainly without question in Willy’s case, and their very lives. Things have seemed calm in the Vermont area with nothing major going on. A minor notable exception being the strange case of the “Tag Man.”
Local police are handling the case and getting nowhere with no clues, no suspects, and virtually no forensic evidence. This despite the fact that the home invader often eats items from the fridge while the occupants are sleeping. The victim’s first clue in the morning that something happened is the note next to their bedside reading “You’re It” when they wake up. The victims all claim nothing is ever taken and seem to have no links between them.
But, one victim wasn’t about to talk to police about what was taken from him. He has the connections to solve the problem and get back what is his. For the “Tag Man” his relatively harmless game is about to become a very real high stakes game of life and death.
Bouncing back and forth between the points of view of numerous characters, this latest novel in the series is more about everyone else than Joe Gunther. As such it means this is more of a novel about waiting for Joe to get back in the investigative saddle more than anything else. While it is somewhat interesting to see further developments of other characters, such as how Sammie and especially Willy adjust to being parents of a newborn, it would have been more fitting in a novel billed as “A Joe Gunther Novel” to see more from Joe’s perspective. Less point of view from very minor characters would have been helpful as well as less of an open ending that reads too much as a way to bring the “Tag Man” character back in another novel. A character that ultimately just wasn’t that interesting no matter his compulsive reasons for doing what he does.
All in all this was an average read that borders on the disappointing when one takes into account this strong series as a whole. When you have an incredible franchise as Archer Mayor does in the Joe Gunther character, it seems a waste of everything to waste it on a filler book. Either dive all the way in on the psychology of Joe and his latest trauma and the guilt that entails or skip it all together for a much more interesting case. This book takes neither position and instead finds some sort of unsatisfying middle of the road between the two positions that results in an unsatisfying read. Unfortunately, all too often, Tag Man reads like a padded short story masquerading as a filler novel while we wait for the next big case.
Tag Man: A Joe Gunther Novel
Material provided by the good folks of the Plano Texas Library System.
Kevin R. Tipple © 2012