Mayor resorts to his tried and true formula for Paradise City, a police procedural sparked by human tragedy. Vermont Bureau of Investigation agent Joe Gunther is alerted to a string of burglaries that suggest a well-organized network stretching from Boston to Northampton, Massachusetts, or “Paradise City,” where ill-gotten goods find their way to a lucrative marketplace. Jewelry is sometimes reconfigured into other forms by skilled workers culled from unsuspecting illegal immigrants in another scheme that emerges from the primary activity of moving stolen goods through the system.
Assembling his usual team—Samantha Martens, Willy Kunkle and Lester Spinney—after a spectacular robbery/arson in Tucker Peak, Vermont, Gunther’s local investigation expands with a robbery/homicide in Boston’s Beacon Hill. An elderly woman, Billie Hawthorne, loses consciousness after an assault and never awakens from her coma. Ironically, it is the mistakes of these low-level crooks on Beacon Hill that lead to the final showdown and the identification of the mastermind behind the network. Though the Beacon Hill robbery at first seems arbitrary and unrelated to the Vermont cases, it is just this sort of random link that exposes the genius behind the network, a sophisticated concept that has proven successful for the operation.
Equally random—except in Mayor’s master plan—is the involvement of Billie Hawthorne’s only relative, granddaughter Mina Chase, who undertakes her own investigation when disenchanted with the local authorities’ efforts on her grandmother’s behalf. That Mina’s interference will only complicate a sensitive operation goes without saying, but it is the human element that allows the police procedural format to remain relevant, predictably skewered by the unexpected actions of individuals that send even the most detailed planning awry.
Unfortunately, Mina is not fully integrated into the storyline, disassociated from the main characters and their activities, perhaps window dressing for a plot in need of arresting personalities. Gunther, still grieving from a tragic personal loss, seems at times to phone in his role in the novel. In contrast, the only truly relatable character is the curmudgeonly Willy Kunkle, who has been experiencing serious relationship issues with Sam Martens since the birth of their daughter. The irascible detective, while perpetually out of sorts, has the respect of his coworkers for an innate ability to cut to the heart of a case and interpret the motives of suspects brilliantly. Like the squeaky wheel, Kunkle’s grousing is a critical element in a team made functional by its parts.
Though the identity of “the man behind the curtain” and the breadth of the robbery operation is the focus of Paradise City, it is Kunkle’s brush with fate that reminds everyone involved what is really important in the daily battle between cops and criminals. Paradise City is an entertaining mystery, but it won’t keep you up past your bedtime.