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The Sniper's Wife    by Archer Mayor order for
Sniper's Wife
by Archer Mayor
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Despite the title, there is no sniper in this thriller. The Sniper was Willy Kunkle's nickname in Vietnam, and his ex-wife Mary is killed at the beginning of the story. Willy has long been my favorite character in a series that has usually starred lawman Joe Gunther and been set in Vermont. This time the action is in New York City and Gunther has only a peripheral role (the author's introduction reassures long-time series fans that this is a 'one-time change of locale'.

Willy Kunkle is a complex character - an ex-New York patrolman, ex-Vietnam veteran and alcoholic. He has a difficult personality and a withered arm, legacy of a police shoot-out. Over the years, he has come to find the arm useful as 'his own built-in red herring.' Kunkle has had a roller-coaster career and attributes his current high entirely to Joe Gunther's efforts rather than his own. One morning, Willy is called to New York to identify the corpse of his divorced wife, whom the police believe died from an accidental overdose.

Willy's guilt over his past abuse of Mary pulls him into an unofficial investigation, which soon shows that Mary did not fit the profile of a junkie, and seemed to be in control of her life. Was she murdered and if so, why? Joe Gunther and Sammie Martens (with whom Willy has recently become involved) watch from the sidelines. They try as usual to save Kunkle from his own worst enemy, himself, as his actions begin to imperil his job, his life and the lives of those around him.

The investigation uncovers connections to Willy's brother, an old friend from Vietnam and a shady go-between he once saved as Joe Gunther saved him. Willy feels like he's been 'travelling backward in time like a man walking into freezing cold water.' We learn more about what has made him the way he is. The early police procedural takes off into an action packed crescendo involving unusual New York locations like the Portsmouth naval prison, as Willy comes ever closer to going over the edge.

If, like me, you've wanted more of Willy Kunkle, then The Sniper's Wife is a must read; if the series is new to you, this thirteenth episode can be enjoyed on its own, but will soon send you to the library or bookstore for more.

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