Apparently I’m reviewing one of Archer Mayor’s novels each year. I see that I wrote about St. Alban’s Fire on February 3, 2007; and I wrote about The Second Mouse on March 8, 2008. Unfortunately I have to report that The Catch is not up to the standard of those two earlier books, nor is it up to the standard of the rest of Mayor’s Vermont series.
This is not to say that The Catch is badly written. It’s workmanlike enough, and at least I never wanted to abandon it partway through. The main characters are developed in somewhat further depth than in previous works in the series — better than no development at all, but still disappointing. Some of the secondary characters are intriguing. The clash among various police agencies is moderately interesting, but it’s overwhelmed by their cooperation. The geographic setting is expanded from Vermont to Maine and to Dorchester, with the three locations playing off one another to create some mild interest; the reader does gain something of a sense of the vastness of the state of Maine and some characteristics of its fishing industry. But it’s all superficial.
And what about Dorchester? First, you’ll have to know that the plot revolves around drug dealers and drug smuggling. And so of course you’re supposed to think of South Boston and Dorchester — and Dot Ave in particular, right? Well, no…that’s one of the things that irritates me in The Catch. Here’s an example:
She gave him an address in Boston, on Dorchester Avenue — nicknamed “Dot Ave” among cops, and infamous as a drug and gang hotbed.
We’ll forgive Mayor for the “among cops” qualification, since it’s known as Dot Ave among everyone; that’s not what bothers me. Later it becomes clear that they’re talking about the northern segment of Dot Ave — in Southie — not the rest of it in Dorchester. But still we have paragraphs like this one:
In some ways, Maine was like a frat party. The Dorchester people, they were after your blood — there were turf battles, ethnic issues, real down-and-out gunfights.
Now I’m not denying that there are drug busts, turf battles, ethnic issues, and gunfights in Dorchester and Southie. Of course there are. But why does everyone in this novel take it for granted that that’s where you look if you’re after gangs and drug dealers in Boston? I can’t readily find any appropriate map or figures from different neighborhoods, but a quick search shows plenty of drug busts in Allston, Charlestown, Roxbury, West Roxbury, and every other neighborhood in Boston.
Maybe I should refer Mayor to Whalehead King’s regular paeans to Dorchester, even if their enthusiasm is occasionally over the top.