You wouldn’t want to be the focus of Archer Mayor’s work. That would make you dead.
If his name rings a bell, that’s because Archer Mayor is the New York Times best-selling author who has penned 27 mystery novels featuring police detective Joe Gunther. Mayor’s made-up world of crime and mystery revolves around Brattleboro, Vermont, and shares curious parallels with his real-life job investigating death scenes for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Vermont. But Mayor does something his hero character doesn’t do: he rides a motorcycle.
Mayor outfitted his Yamaha V Star 950 to accommodate what he indelicately calls his corpse kit—a rugged, padded case for carrying his professional utensils. “I have tools for poking and prodding,” he said, “extraction tools in case I need to send your fluids to the office, cameras, magnifying lenses, very bright flashlights, laser measurers and various things that my colleagues might need at the scene.”
The corpse kit is heavy, so Mayor secures it in a similar, larger case he bolted to his V Star. When he’s called to a scene, he slides the corpse kit inside the larger case and off he goes. “Time is of the essence, not because someone is going to die—that’s already happened—but because an investigation has begun and I’m expected to be there.”
Admittedly, he can’t always get there on a motorcycle. “I work in law enforcement environments so I have to think tactically,” Mayor explained. “Is the scene safe? Is the arrival on my bike safe for me and everybody involved? What’s likely to happen down the line? I never superimpose my unrestrained pleasure of riding a motorcycle over the practical aspects of my job. I don’t want to join my clientele.”
Still, showing up on two wheels has advantages. “I am entering stressful environments, almost inevitably,” Mayor said. “People are distraught. Arriving on a motorcycle can have a funny, calming influence. It gives people something to talk about other than the death that I’ve been summoned to. It can help you be a real ambassador for law enforcement.”
Some mystery writers were cops or forensics experts first, but Mayor was a writer first. His experience as an historian, journalist and researcher motivated him to get procedural details correct in his stories, so he consulted regularly with pros like detectives, fingerprint experts and blood spatter analysts. “When I began writing murder mysteries I wanted the stories to represent actual protocol,” he said. “I made them so research-based, the cops and medical examiners got to know me. Eventually a cop said, ‘Look, you’ve been spending so much time with us, you know as much as we do, we’re hiring, why not join us?’” Mayor did, and he served as a criminal investigator for 15 years. He also has served as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician.
Mayor’s current gig is Mediolegal Death Investigator for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Vermont. However he arrives on a scene, he encounters a body and anyone who’s there stands aside. “As a member of the Medical Examiner’s office, I am there to protect the dead guy’s rights, protect his integrity and reveal the truth of what happened to him. I can start poking and prodding and taking a close look at things that other people there may not know how to interpret. I can check things such as eye color or what’s coming out of the ears or what those funny little black bumps are. I can take photos. I might spend hours there figuring it all out to make a determination. Will we have to send it to autopsy or can we believe what we’ve got? There is nonstop talking and the strength is your team. In that way, it’s sort of the reverse of motorcycling.”
Mayor expounded on that last observation. “Riding a motorcycle is like flying on the face of the earth, and in order to fly you need to pay attention. I have found that to be my perfect form of meditation. In its purest form, you should disrobe your mind except for a central point. When I’m on a bike, that central point is the connection between me and the bike and the road ahead. Everything else goes away. I focus on the world around me and the bike underneath me and what I can control. When I ride a motorcycle, that is the entirety of my world.”
Archer Mayor lives his life—and rides—in the moment. “If you’re not riding in the moment you’re riding dangerously. Look, life is dangerous. I know that better than most people. But everything I do is done with a purpose and motorcycling fits into that. In my peculiar world of trauma and mishap, motorcycle riding is soul cleansing.” Riders get that.
Feels good to be alive.
Learn more: archermayor.com