Bleak Harborby Bryan Gruley Published 01 Dec 2018
|Publisher||Thomas & Mercer|
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Their son is gone. Deep down, they think they’re to blame.
Summertime in Bleak Harbor means tourists, overpriced restaurants, and the Dragonfly Festival. One day before the much-awaited and equally chaotic celebration, Danny Peters, the youngest member of the family that founded the town five generations ago, disappears.
When Danny’s mother, Carey, and stepfather, Pete, receive a photo of their brilliant, autistic, and socially withdrawn son tied to a chair, they fear the worst. But there’s also more to the story. Someone is sending them ominous texts and emails filled with information no one else should have. Could the secrets they’ve kept hidden—even from one another—have led to Danny’s abduction?
As pressure from the kidnapper mounts, Carey and Pete must face their own ugly mistakes to find their son before he’s taken from them forever.
"Bleak Harbor" Reviews
Bleak Harbor marks the return of Bryan Gruley, and not a moment too soon. I was a big fan of his Starvation Lake trilogy, but the last book in that series, The Skeleton Box, appeared in 2012, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting his next book ever since. It turns out, though, that the wait was well worth it. Bleak Harbor is a fast-paced, taut thriller that grabs the reader from the opening lines and refuses to let go until the final scenes have played out in the wake of a great climax.
At the center of the book is a troubled family living in Bleak Harbor, Michigan, a small town where the highlight of the summer tourist season is the annual Dragonfly Festival. Carey Peters, the wife and mother, is descended from the town’s founder. Her mother, Serenity Bleak, lives in a huge home overlooking the town, isolated from the rest of the residents, both geographically and economically. The Bleaks made a huge fortune from their various enterprises in the town, but the rest of the citizens have not done nearly as well, and many of them are experiencing hard times as several of the Bleaks’ businesses have closed, leaving their former employees high and dry. Carey is employed by a firm in Chicago and commutes back and forth to Bleak Harbor two or three times a week to see her family. She is estranged from her mother who has cut Carey out of her will.
Carey’s husband, Pete Peters, was once a high-flying commodities trader in Chicago, but he hit a bad streak and lost his job. He convinced Carey to move back to Bleak Harbor where he has opened a medical marijuana shop and is struggling to get the business up and running. Both Carey and Pete have dark secrets that they are hiding from each other, and their relationship is strained for a variety of reasons.
Carey’s son—Pete’s stepson—is fifteen-year-old Danny. Danny is on the autism spectrum and, while brilliant in some respects, can also be a “difficult” child. One thing that Carey and Pete do agree on is that they both love Danny very much. Danny and Pete have an excellent relationship, centered on fishing and other activities that they do together.
The book opens on the eve of Danny’s sixteenth birthday as the annual Dragonfly Festival is about to begin. Pete arrives home expecting to take Danny fishing. He finds that Danny has prepared the sandwiches and drinks they will be taking with them, but the boy himself is nowhere to be found. Shortly thereafter, Pete receives a photo of Danny bound to a chair with what appears to be a bruise on his cheek. Accompanying the photo is a demand for a huge ransom and with that, the book is off and running.
The plot is intricately designed; the characters, even the minor ones, are sharply drawn, and the tension is palpable throughout as Carey and Pete and a variety of law enforcement officials work to save Danny from a particularly fiendish and clever antagonist. In particular, as he demonstrated in the Starvation Lake series, Gruley excels at describing life in a small town like Bleak Harbor, where all sorts of secrets and machinations are at work beneath the surface. The setting is expertly rendered and becomes a character in and of itself. All in all, this is a very entertaining novel and the reader leaves the book very much hoping that it will not be another six years before we hear from Bryan Gruley again. 4.5 stars rounded up to 5.
I really wanted to like this but it just wasn't for me.
When Carey and Pete's autistic son, Danny, goes missing, both start to panic as they assume their own sordid secrets could be to blame. Already at a breaking point, where can their relationship go from here... and most importantly, how are they going to come up with this ridiculous amount of strange dollar amount to get him back?!
It takes about 65 pages in for the story to ramp up. Even at this point I'm unsure where the plot it going.... but I'm super intrigued and need to find out what's going to happen. We get introduced to a variety of characters, their back stories and how they may or may not be complicit in what is happening to Danny. What I loved was how everyone was integrated and that we don't have one or three particular characters as part of the main plot line - really each character brings their own part.
I'll be honest though -the reveal just did not work for me. I wasn't particularly surprised about the main part and the reasoning behind it seems a tad bit ... elementary. Maybe that's fitting for that particular character and I've certainly read and seen people do far worse things for a lot smaller reasons... however, this one just didn't quite push my AHA button. Instead I was left a bit disappointed and wanting.
I do think those who like a more complicated plot that involves several characters and are more into the slower suspense will like this novel. I think my timing was a bit off for this one and in the vast amount of thrillers that I read, this one just fell a bit subpar for what I typically prefer.
Thank you Thomas & Mercer and Kaye Publicity for this copy.
I was immediately drawn to this book by this cover -so moody, so mysterious. And the name – Bleak Harbor – is a tip off that maybe this coastal town has some secrets that aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. Perfect for that beginning of fall read, where summer is waning and the leaves are just starting to turn, and instead of beach reads, you want something a little darker.
At first, this book seems pretty straight forward – a boy goes missing, and his family is desperate to find him. But then, little by little, all these secrets spill out, there are twists and turns, all woven together so well that the reader never sees them coming. And you never feel like something just came out of left field – it all masterfully falls into place, and the reader is drawn to finish the book as fast as possible, just to see what the heck happens next! And the characters were perfect in that perfectly human way – not without flaws, this was not a glossy magazine type family despite that their connections to the town founders. This is a family with secrets.
As a Michigander, I love that Gruley is a Detroit native and that the setting is a small town on the water in southwest Michigan. Everyone loves to find bits and pieces of places and things that they know and are familiar with in a story, and it was neat to see references dropped in to cities I have visited. I especially liked the addition of a Mexican restaurant named Xochilmilco – I am only guessing but perhaps named for one of the most popular Mexican restaurants in Detroit.
I also liked how Gruley wrote Danny. He didn’t stick to a stereotyped version of someone who has autism, and in fact, addresses these stereotypes a few times within the book itself, and challenges the reader to change their perception of what they think autism is. I am not personally very familiar with the diagnosis, so I can’t speak to the accuracy of Gruley’s depiction, but I do like how he writes the character of Danny.
Overall, I loved this book. I found it exciting, and I couldn’t wait to see what would come next. It was chock full of mystery and surprise, and it was exactly the type of book I have been craving.
Back in 2008/2009, an advance reader edition of a little novel was given to me by Wendy Sheanin at Simon & Schuster with a note saying "I think you will like this one, and the author lives in Chicago.'. That novel is STARVATION LAKE, and it was like a smack to the back of the head, in a good way. A very good way. Gruley's debut was lauded with good reason, it is filled with a great story peopled with believable characters. Two novels followed, continuing the story of Gus Carpenter and the people of Starvation Lake, Michigan. 2012 was the last time I read fiction from Gruley, being teased with email and social media comments of a fourth novel coming. AT LAST!! I got another smack to the back of the head from BLEAK HARBOR. Gruley knows small town Michigan and his writing takes you into the small corner bar and lakeside homes. HIs characters are everyday people, like your neighbors - only with some major problems. Carey is the offspring of the founding family of Bleak Harbor, and her relationship with her Mother is strained to say the least. Her son Danny is a brilliant, gifted loner suffering from autism. Her husband Pete is, well Pete runs a medicinal marijuana shop in Bleak Harbor and he too has problems. When Danny is abducted, Cary and Pete's problems rear up to haunt them. Will their secrets destroy any chance of finding Danny? Enter a cast of characters, local police force, FBI agents, drug lord thugs and the locals of normally peaceful Bleak Harbor. The writing flows from the start at a smooth pace, revealing bits and pieces of the character's pasts for you, but when Gruley steps on the pedal you are in for a thrill ride. I suspected the twist and it was delivered wonderfully. These are people that you want to know about, even the 'bad guys', and Gruley knows how to write and deliver them. I was getting very antsy, waiting for this one, but damn it was worth it. A special THANK YOU to Bryan for writing this one... I look forward to the next one. Maybe a return to Bleak Harbor?
Bleak Harbor is the epitome of a summer town, where wealthy families come to vacation and tourists are attracted to their unique Dragonfly Festival. The town is named after the Bleak family, who’s matriarch, Serenity, lives in a gated mansion in town, while her children choose to be estranged. Carey Peters is the daughter the daughter of Serenity. Along with her husband, Pete, and son, Danny, the Peters family have just returned to live in Bleak Harbor. They live a relatively quiet life here. Carey is still commuting to her old job in Chicago. Pete is running a marijuana dispensary. And Danny is trying to find a place to fit in.
One day while Carey is at work and Pete is nursing his business concerns over alcohol, Danny goes missing. Carey and Pete instantly fear the worst after receiving a photo of Danny tied to a chair, along with a ransom request. Danny is a brilliant boy, but Carey and Pete worry more than typical parents over the state of their son’s well-being in this kidnapping situation, as he is autistic and extremely socially withdrawn. Soon texts and emails come pouring into the couple revealing secrets they would rather leave buried. Who abducted Danny? How do they know so much about their private lives? Was Danny kidnapped because of something Carey or Pete did?
When Bryan Gruley reached out to be about reviewing his novel I instantly found the plot interesting and accepted. After reading this book, I am so happy Gruley reached out to me! BLEAK HARBOR was a book I thought I would enjoy going into it and it ended up being such a surprising, twisty ride of so much more than I was expecting.
BLEAK HARBOR on the surface is the story of a kidnapped teenage son, Danny, who happens to have autism, being held for ransom by an unknown person. The parents of Danny have much more happening in their lives than meets the surface and the secrets they are hiding leave both of them wondering if their actions lead to the abduction. Get ready for some serious drama! Carey and Pete are all over the place with their pasts, presents, and the next moves they choose to make during the abduction. I couldn’t stop second guessing whether or not I liked either parent and certainly didn’t trust what they were revealing about themselves.
The best part of this book is that there are actually a lot more characters involved in the plot than you initially go into the book thinking there will be. Gruley casts these characters each with their own unique backstory that truly helps the reader become more connected to them. While they may not be the main focus of the book, each secondary character has an important role or function within the story and the end result. While we’re talking end results...I loved the ending of BLEAK HARBOR! I definitely still have some questions for several characters and am curious about where their lives will take them, but overall I was satisfied with the way things wrapped up. If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller that will really make you think and contemplate character’s actions I highly recommend giving BLEAK HARBOR a shot!
While rating this on Goodreads I realized there is going to be a second book in the series (currently slated for 2020), but then also saw a comment from Gruley saying it won’t focus on advancing this story. I can definitely see this town having more secrets up its sleeve, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next installment.