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The Skeleton Box: A Starvation Lake Mystery    by Bryan Gruley order for
Skeleton Box
by Bryan Gruley
Order:  USA  Can
Touchstone, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Skeleton Box follows Starvation Lake and The Hanging Tree as the third of Bryan Gruley's Starvation Lake mysteries. The spotlight is on Gus Carpenter, once a star reporter at a big Detroit newspaper and now editor of the Pine County Pilot, 'circulation 3,876 and falling.' He lives on his own but keeps close watch over his mother Bea, who is showing increasing signs of dementia.

Recently the small town in northern Michigan has been plagued by what have been dubbed the Bingo Night Burglaries (they occur the night elderly residents play bingo at the church). They suddenly get more serious. Gus is called to his mother's home, where her close friend and neighbor (his ex-girlfriend Darlene's mother Phyllis) has been murdered. Darlene, a Pine County sheriff's deputy, was Gus's first love and they've had a rocky, on again off again relationship.

Sheriff Dingus Aho (up for re-election) is not a fan of Gus's, after the latter made the connection between the burglaries and Bingo Night. He does what he can to keep Gus out of the case. Phyllis' final words point to a Father Nilus Moreau, a pastor in Starvation Lake when Bea was a child. At that time there was an investigation into a missing nun, and the gardener accused of killing her was murdered in jail. Luke Whistler, a former Detroit Free Press reporter hired by Gus to work for the Pilot, seems to have his own agenda in chasing the story.

Adding depth to the plot is a makeshift born-again commune led by Gus's old friend Tatch. This community was recently joined by Matthew Breck, a lawyer who has surprising influence over the group and helps them fight an attempted land grab. The action escalates as Tatch is arrested, and then Gus's mother Bea, right after giving her son a lockbox hiding a dark family secret. Gus's ex-colleague Joanie McCarthy gets in on the action.

Bryan Gruley writes an intriguing mystery in The Skeleton Box, enriched by the engaging interactions of folk in a small town, who have known each other well for a long time, but who still keep many secrets. This is a good story, well worth the time of mystery fans.

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