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Mystery writer Archer Mayor is as distinctive a stylist as fellow hard-boiler James Lee Burke, rendering New England winters as vividly as any Currier & Ives print. Mayor’s sense of place is so strong that the town of Brattleboro, Vt., becomes a critical character in his novels. His Joe Gunther series is far from a U.S. rendering of manor-house mysteries set in the English countryside. These are serious procedurals, where violent crimes are solved through solid police work. Mayor introduced Lt. Gunther 11 years ago in Open Season. In Gunther’s 10th appearance, Occam’s Razor, a series of mysterious deaths leads the cop toward an intersection between toxic chemicals and a local politician. Mayor’s mysteries are part of a recent subgenre exposing the dirty little secrets lurking just below the surface of folksy small-town America. Eschewing the surreal campiness of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, these writers hark back to Sam Fuller, who shone his bright light on small towns in films like The Naked Kiss. Their heroes often find themselves embroiled in small-town politics no less cutthroat, sometimes literally, than those of the big city. Mayor’s rural streets can be just as mean as Philip Marlowe’s. At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 16, at the Smithsonian Institution’s Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Drive SW. $13. For reservations call (202) 357-3030. (Mark W. Sullivan)