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BLEAK HOUSE by Bryan Gruley: Book Review

What’s in a name, anyway?  As Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Still, names convey a lot, and some are less pleasing than others.  So what would you expect of a family whose last name is Bleak?

Bleak Harbor, Michigan was founded generations ago by Jacob Bleak.  Bleak had established a lumber mill, a newspaper, a shipping port, and steelworks across the river in Indiana, but all of that is gone now except for the newspaper and the millions of dollars those businesses earned.  This money is controlled now by the family’s matriarch, Serenity Bleak; she is willing to give the town her entire estate, having disinherited her only descendants years earlier, with one condition:  she wants every part of the township renamed for her.

Not surprisingly, Serenity is estranged from her daughter and son, and ordinarily her daughter Carey Bleak Peters is fine with that.  Now, however, Carey is facing the worst moment of her life.  Her autistic son, Danny, is missing.  A ransom note demanding five million dollars for his safe return has been emailed to her, and she may be forced to ask her mother for the money to save him.

Carey’s life was spinning out of control even before this.  She had taken a job in Chicago, a major commute home three times a week but something that was necessary to support her family.  Her husband Pete’s legal marijuana shop is close to bankruptcy, and that problem is in addition to his increasingly high consumption of alcohol.  Carey has made a major blunder in her own life, sleeping with her boss, Randall Pressman, one night.  After she continues to refuse his demands for another night with him, Pressman demotes her and threatens to move her to another of his offices even farther from Bleak Harbor.

However, Carey has a plan of her own, both for revenge against Randall and to get out of her current life, leaving everything and everyone behind except Danny.  She has obtained documents that prove that Pressman Logistics is transporting illegal cargo across state lines, and she’s demanding her own ransom–ten million dollars from Pressman to destroy the incriminating papers or she hands them over to the feds.

And then she comes home to celebrate Danny’s 16th birthday to find that he’s missing.  Pete, who was supposed to pick up his stepson that afternoon at the dock so they could go fishing, instead had stopped at his usual afternoon hangout, Boz’s Bayfront Bar and Grill, for a quick drink or two.  By the time Pete got to the dock, Danny was nowhere to be seen.

Bleak Harbor is a taut thriller about a family where everyone, no exceptions, has secrets they don’t want to disclose.  You can feel Carey’s pain at her past and current mistakes and her overwhelming love for her son, although she acknowledges to herself that there are parts to him that she will never understand.  Bryan Gruley’s characters are sympathetic even when you realize that their every step is a misstep and that their secrets are making a terrifying situation worse.

You can read about Bryan Gruley at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

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