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Archer Mayor. Putnam Adult, $19.95 (253pp) ISBN 978-0-399-13553-8

In this sophisticated mystery, Lieutenant Joe Gunther, acting chief of the Brattleboro, Vt., police department, makes his second appearance; the first was in Mayor's superlative Open Season. Seeking a rest from his stressful job, Gunther procures a temporary assignment to Gannet, Vt., the site of his boyhood summer vacations. The tone of his tenure is set when a suspicious fire claims five lives. The dead are all members of the Natural Order, a mysterious back-to-nature cult that has created dissension in the economically depressed town by buying up much of its property. Gunther, who is nearly killed in the fire, becomes a member of the team investigating its cause. Then another corpse is found. The victim, stabbed to death, was searching for his daughter, a cult member. Gunther begins to question his professionalism once he realizes that the prime suspect in these killings is his best friend. The situation is further complicated by the refusal of the Order members to cooperate with the police and by the townspeople's growing distrust of Gunther. After another gory murder is committed, Gunther follows his instincts with near-fatal results. He learns that the Gannet of his boyhood happiness is gone--maybe forever. Mayor's polished sentences and adroit deductive reasoning add depth and style. (Oct.)