Starvation Lake is a small community in northern Michigan, a community in which everyone seems to know everything about everyone else. But those are the things on the surface. Some of the town’s secrets have deep roots and stretch back in time.
The story begins in March 2000. Someone is breaking into the homes of some of the towns older residents, always on Sunday nights when the occupants are playing Bingo at St. Valentine’s Church. It is obvious that the burglar is looking for something specific because the houses are thoroughly searched but nothing is taken. Gus Carpenter, the editor of the weekly newspaper The Pilot has been following the story until he finds himself part of the story. Gus’s mother, Bea, is sliding into dementia. Her next door neighbor and best friend, Phyllis Bontrager, checks on her a few times a day, seeing to it she eats and takes her medication. One night Gus gets a call while he is in the newspaper office. The police and ambulance service are at his home. Someone has broken in and Phyllis is dead. Before she dies Phyllis calls 911 and says one word, “nye-less”. Bea is too confused to be of help to the police.
Gus discovers that nye-less is a name, that of the Rev. Nilus Moreau who became pastor of St. Valentine’s Church in 1933. Bea Carpenter and Phyllis Bontrager were students at the school when, in 1944, Sister Mary Cordelia disappeared. Nonny, as her students called her, was never found.
Gus has a new reporter on The Pilot. Luke Whistler is retired from the Detroit Free Press and he is eager to keep up his role as a newspaper reporter. As Whistler investigates the disappearance of a nun in 1944, it obvious that event is still reverberating fifty-six years later.
Gus’s mother is devastated by the loss of her life long friend. Bea has a need to revisit her past and she takes Gus to a place where she has hidden a wooden box, the Skeleton Box, the repository of stories that perhaps should have stayed hidden.
THE SKELETON BOX is compelling as a mystery and as a narrative about life in a small town where generations guard secrets and everyone has long memories. As the story unfolds lives are changed. This is not a book the reader will forget quickly. It is a reminder that the small pebble thrown into the water spreads further than we expect. History is the story of unexpected results and ramifications and while knowledge can be power and can also be a weapon.
Bryan Gruley should not be missed. THE SKELETON BOX can be read as a stand-alone but it is best enjoyed if the first two books have been read prior to reading the third. The characters develop over the course of the series and familiarity with the characters adds to the enjoyment.