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Book Author: Bryan Grueley

BLEAK HARBOR 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.


THE SKELETON BOX by Bryan Gruley: Book Review

Ice hockey is the be-all and end-all in the northern Michigan town of Starvation Lake.

Gus Carpenter, the editor of the Pine County Pilot, is infamous in the area for having let the winning goal slip between his legs when he was a teenager on the town’s hockey team. His team lost the state championship to its bitter rival, and in a way the rest of Gus’ life has been trying to make up for that unfortunate moment nineteen years earlier.

Now playing in the adult league as the goalie for the Chowder Heads of the Midnight Hour Men’s League, Gus is called out of the locker room after a game by a deputy sheriff and taken to his mother’s house.  There Gus finds that his mother’s best friend and quasi-caregiver, Phyllis Bontrager, has been killed in Bea Carpenter’s house.

The town has been hit by a rash of burglaries over the past few weeks. It’s being called the “Bingo Night Burglaries” because each one has taken place on a night that the weekly bingo game is being held at St. Valentine’s Church.  The strangest part of these burglaries is that nothing appears to have been taken from any of the homes, but personal records have been rifled.

Usually both Phyllis and Bea would have been at that game, but Bea tells her son that she hadn’t felt like going and Phyllis was keeping her company.  Bea’s memory loss is intermittently getting worse; sometimes her memory is fine and sometimes it isn’t.  All she’s able to tell the police is that she had gone to bed, with Phyllis downstairs, then gotten up to use the bathroom, and there she found Phyllis bleeding on the floor.  She knew to call 911 but has no idea of how someone got into her house or why they’d want to murder her friend.

To further complicate the situation, Gus’ former girlfriend, Darlene Esper, is both a county deputy sheriff and daughter of the victim. In Phyllis’ last moments, she called her daughter and left a message on her cell’s voice mail that there was someone in Bea’s house, but Darlene was responding to another call and decided she could call her mother back.  But by then it was too late.

Gus had left Starvation Lake years before to make a name for himself in Detroit’s newspaper world.  But a brush with the law had ended his career there and sent him back home.  Now he edits the twice-weekly Pilot, along with a fellow journalist who also gave up the fast track in the Motor City to come to Starvation Lake.  Luke Whistler, a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, had come to town to take things a bit easier, he said, to get away from the frantic pace of the Free Press but not to retire.  He’s a tireless investigator, and once he gets the bit between his teeth, he won’t let go of a story.

Into this mix comes Wayland Breck, a stranger from the city who is involved in a Christian camp on the outskirts of town.  He’s fighting the town council to object to a raise in the group’s taxes, and his hold over the people living in the compound seems total and eerie.  Is there more to Wayland’s crusade than taxes?  Where did he come from and why is he here?  And why is his hold on the people in the compound so tight?

The Skeleton Box holds a lot of secrets, some going back more than sixty years.  Like Pandora’s box, once the skeleton box is opened it can’t be closed again.

Bryan Gruley has written an intriguing follow-up to the two previous novels in the Gus Carpenter series. His writing is sharp and will keep you turning until the very surprising end of the story.   Guy is a terrific protagonist, one I’m anxious to see again.

You can read more about Bryan Gruley at his web site.