The Skeleton Box

A Starvation Lake Mystery

The Skeleton Box

Does Gus Carpenter really want to know what’s inside the skeleton box? In Anthony– and Barry Award–winning author Bryan Gruley’s gripping new novel, Gus must decide if the truth is better off dead and buried.

Mysterious break-ins are plaguing the small town of Starvation Lake. While elderly residents enjoy their weekly bingo night at St. Valentine’s Catholic Church, someone is slipping into their homes to rifle through financial and personal files. Oddly, the intruder takes nothing—yet the “Bingo Night Burglaries” leave the entire town uneasy.

Worry turns into panic when a break-in escalates to murder. Suddenly, Gus Carpenter, editor of the Pine County Pilot, is forced to investigate the most difficult story of his life. Not only is the victim his ex-girlfriend Darlene’s mother, but her body was found in the home of Bea Carpenter—Gus’s own mother. Suffering from worsening dementia and under the influence of sleeping pills, Bea remembers little of the break-in.

With the help of Luke Whistler, a former Detroit Free Press reporter who came north looking for slower days and some old-fashioned newspaper work, Gus sets out to uncover the truth behind the murder. But when the story leads him to a lockbox his mother has kept secret for years, Gus doesn’t realize that its contents could forever change his perception of Starvation Lake, his own family, and the value of the truth.
  • Touchstone | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416564027 | 
  • June 2012
List Price $16.99 (price may vary by retailer)



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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Skeleton Box includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Bryan Gruley. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


The Skeleton Box recounts the story of a murder in the small town of Starvation Lake, Michigan—a murder that journalist Gus Carpenter is determined to solve. There is a lot at stake for Gus: the victim—Phyllis Bontrager—is the mother of his ex-girlfriend Darlene, the best friend of his own mother, Bea Carpenter, and was found dead in Bea’s house after an attempted break-in turned sour. With the help of Luke Whistler, a former Detroit Free Press reporter, Gus sets out to uncover the truth behind Mrs. B’s death and the break-ins plaguing Starvation Lake. But what he doesn't realize is his new protégé, Luke, has his own agenda, one that circles back to buried secrets that may forever change Gus's assumptions about his own family.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. The prologue to The Skeleton Box begins: “Father, forgive me, for I have sinned…̶ see more

More Books from this Author

Bryan Gruley's Starvation Lake Mystery Series 2-Book Boxed Set
The Hanging Tree
Starvation Lake

About the Author

Bryan Gruley
Photo Credit: Sigrid Estrada

Bryan Gruley

Bryan Gruley is reporter at large for Bloomberg News and the former Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal. He has won the Anthony, Barry, and Strand Awards and was nominated for an Edgar Award for best first novel. He lives with his wife in Chicago. Visit