The Skeleton Box
A Gus Carpenter Mystery by Bryan Gruley
Review: Rural Michigan reporter Gus Carpenter gets drawn into a murder investigation that hits a little too close — the victim was found in his mother's home — in The Skeleton Box, the third, and what appears to be the final, Starvation Lake mystery by Bryan Gruley.
The dead woman is Phyllis Bontrager, Bea Carpenter's — Gus's mom's — best friend. Bea was apparently present at the time of the murder, though asleep, and can't imagine why Phyllis would even be in her home. Gus has fond memories of Phyllis, who he still called Mrs. B., from his time as a youth. And his connection to her is even stronger: his ex-girlfriend, Darlene Esper, a county sheriff's deputy, with whom he still has feelings, is Mrs. B.'s daughter. The police think Mrs. B. was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, possibly startling the "Bingo Night Burglar", who had been ransacking the homes of elderly residents … though oddly not taking anything in the process. But Gus isn't so sure, especially when he comes to believe that his mother may have been the intended victim of the crime all along.
Good characters, great setting, so-so murder mystery plot. That about sums up The Skeleton Box. Gus Carpenter is a down-to-earth kind of guy, a little too obsessed with hockey — the whole series shares this shortcoming — but one who cares deeply for his small town. His family, friends and foes are also well-drawn; readers know exactly where they stand and what they stand for at all times. The setting is nearly ideal for this kind of mystery series, a real place in the upper region of the lower peninsula of Michigan … though everything about the town itself is fictional in the series. But anyone who elects to read the preface to the book will know exactly what is going on and why from the get go. Once Bea Carpenter's "skeleton box" comes into play, about midway through, it's simply a matter of filling in the details.
One wonders if the author, after just three books, has tired of writing stories for Gus. There isn't much life or spark in this one and it often seems like Gus is simply going through the motions, anxious to bring his investigation to a close but without any sense of accomplishment in doing so. True, it's very personal for him and the ending belies this assumption just a bit, but maybe it is time for Gus — and the author — to take a break before deciding on what may be the next chapter in his life.
Acknowledgment: Touchstone provided a copy of The Skeleton Box for this review.
Review Copyright © 2012 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
The Hanging Tree
Touchstone (Trade Paperback), August 2010
ISBN-13: 9781416563648; ISBN-10: 1416563644
Location(s) referenced in The Skeleton Box: Michigan
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The Skeleton Box by Bryan Gruley — A Gus Carpenter Mystery
Publication Date: June 2012
List Price: $25.00