Book Review: The Skeleton Box by Bryan Gruley

The Skeleton Box
Bryan Gruley
Touchstone Books, June 2012
ISBN 9781416563662

There are so many books where buried secrets are revealed directly or indirectly related to murder. Gruley brings another type of these stories in The Skeleton Box. With a plethora of memorable characters and a puzzle written on torn pieces of paper, Gruley delivers up another fine mystery novel.

A series of break-ins has left the people of Starvation Lake, Michigan, wary and a little fearful. The latest intrusion results in a dead body. The house is owned by the mother of reporter Gus Carpenter and the victim was a close friend. When Gus starts investigating, the case cracks open the seal on a box of secrets kept hidden for decades. Gus tries to find the connection between the recent murder, the disappearance of a nun from the 1940s, why a mysterious entity is buying up land in town, and the odd behavior of a group of religious folks on the outskirts of town. The case turns even more personal when Gus’ mother is arrested and evidence links her to the nun.

I enjoy puzzlers with secrets people try to keep hidden. I found myself moving through this one, almost exhausted with the number of new characters in nearly every chapter, but eager to find the next clue. Gruley doesn’t disappoint with this one. The Skeleton Box is one worth keeping.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, June 2012.
Author of Night Shadows and Beta.

Book Review: Darkness All Around by Doug Magee

Darkness All Around
Doug Magee
Touchstone Books, October 2011
ISBN 9781439154021

Memories are tricky. Sometimes they can be wonderful but sometimes they can reveal awful truths. When you’ve lost your memory, you could be in real trouble. Especially if pieces of the past start filtering through the blockage. When enough of the past seeps through, what’s revealed could be devastating.

Sean Collins left Braden, Pennsylvania at a bad time in his life. He was an alcoholic, his marriage was falling apart, and one of his friends, Carol, had been brutally murdered. Ten years later, he has recovered from an accident that nearly took his life. He’s also remembering pieces of his past and those pieces are telling him he may have killed Carol. Returning to Braden, he finds his former wife, Risa, married to a high school friend, Alan Benson. Benson is in the middle of a hot campaign for Congress. The lives of Alan, Sean, and Risa are about to change when more of the truth is revealed.

A good soap opera type mystery. Magee keeps the tension tight as his characters plunge into turmoil. Who can be believed? What’s the truth? Who can be trusted? The book mainly bounces between Risa and Sean. Risa must deal with an ego driven, power hungry husband and a potentially violent teenage son while Sean struggles to survive and reconcile with his faulty memory. There’s also a reporter looking for the truth and being hounded by his editor. This story contains a lot of good character interaction with an obligatory surprise at the end.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, April 2012.
Author of Night Shadows and Beta.

Book Review: Left for Dead by J.A. Jance

Left for Dead
J.A. Jance
Touchstone Books, February 2012
ISBN 9781451628586

With a complex plot and enough characters to fill an auditorium, J.A. Jance delivers another winner of a story set in Arizona’s desert. This one has a little bit of everything and you won’t know where you’re going next.

Officer Jose Reyes, making what he thinks is a routine traffic stop, is beaten and shot. His friend from the academy, Ali Reynolds learns of the crime and rushes to the hospital. Soon, she finds Jose and his wife under suspicion as drugs and money are found in both Jose’s car and house. At the hospital, Ali discovers another friend, counselor Sister Anselm, comforting a teenage prostitute who was found in the desert, tortured, beaten, and barely alive. Ali becomes involved with investigating both cases and danger stalks both victims as guilty parties try to cover up their crimes.

This is a character driven story with an intricate plot and plenty of each. The reader will enjoy in depth background on the various players while trying to figure out the connections between everybody. Passive readers need not open up the cover as this one keeps up the intrigue, delivers on the mystery, and keeps everyone trying to piece together the evidence.

Review written by Stephen L. Brayton, December 2011.
Author of Night Shadows and Beta.

Book Review: Covenant by Dean Crawford

Dean Crawford
Touchstone Books, October 2011
ISBN 9781451628531

What if you had nothing to lose? However, what if you had everything to gain? What if you were a party to discovering a secret going back millennia, possibly to the beginning of the rise of mankind? Of course, you know there will be others involved who want the secret for themselves. Thus it is in Dean Crawford’s debut thriller, Covenant. From the untamed and violent Israeli deserts to the equally wild urban jungle of Washington, D.C., two sets of individuals try to unravel a mystery while a third, looming group seeks to control the secret for its own fanatical purposes.

His fiancé abducted three years ago, Ethan Warner, former soldier and war correspondent, has been living a rough life. Then, he is recruited by a military buddy to find the man’s granddaughter, Lucy Morgan. An archaeologist working in the Negev Desert, Lucy has been abducted by an unknown party shortly after discovering remains of a humanoid some are suggesting is alien in origin. Meanwhile, back in Washington, D.C., two homicide investigators stumble onto what, at first, looks like a simple case of three overdose victims. However, after the post mortem, one of the victims is rife with anomalies. Evading a ruthless civilian security force, Warner and Lucy’s mother seek answers not only to Lucy’s whereabouts, but to life itself, while the investigators piece together clues that implicate a powerful and controversial pastor.

With short chapters and death defying action scenes, Crawford presents a fast moving tale of intrigue, science, and technology, while revealing some of the mysteries of the origins of life. Where did mankind originate? Why do cultures around the world have similar stories of and throughout history? This book doesn’t seek to answer these questions, but it does spur the imagination.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, November 2011.