Summary and book reviews of Valley of Bones by Michael Gruber

Valley of Bones

A Novel

by Michael Gruber

Valley of Bones
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2005, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2006, 432 pages

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Book Summary

A genuinely exhilarating thriller that simultaneously offers a profound, deeply provocative exploration of the nature of faith itself.

The startling reviews of Tropic of Night announced Michael Gruber as one of the most talented thriller writers to debut in many years. Now, with the much-anticipated publication of Valley of Bones, Gruber fulfills that genre-bending promise as perhaps no writer since Graham Greene, with a genuinely exhilarating thriller that simultaneously offers a profound, deeply provocative exploration of the nature of faith itself.

The setting is Miami. Rookie cop Tito Morales arrives at the Trianon Hotel to investigate a routine disturbance call -- and, to his shock and horror, watches as a wealthy oilman plunges ten stories and impales himself on a nearby fence. Soon Morales is joined by detective Jimmy Paz, famous throughout the city for solving -- or at least providing a plausible solution to -- the so-called Voodoo Murders that left Miami burning months earlier.

Together Paz and Morales enter the hotel and discover, in the dead man's room, a most unusual suspect, an otherworldly woman by the name of Emmylou Dideroff. She emerges from a rapturous, prayerlike state and admits that she had a motive for killing the oilman. Ultimately, she says she wants to confess, and asks for a pen and several notebooks in which to convey the details of her confession.

What Emmylou writes is nothing like what Paz expects; he enlists psychologist Lorna Wise in an effort to make sense of things that go beyond Emmylou's explanation of the murder: details of childhood abuse, of other crimes committed, of regular communion with saints -- and with the devil. Is she mentally disturbed or playacting in hopes of getting declared unfit for trial? Or does she really believe herself to be an instrument of God? And why is it that so many people -- including Paz's biological father -- are suddenly interested in the contents of these notebooks and in preventing them from becoming public?

As Valley of Bones moves toward its startling and dramatic finale, Emmylou's "confessions" lead Jimmy Paz, Lorna Wise, and Tito Morales down a series of unexpected and dangerous turns that puts them in the path of perhaps the most terrifying evil imaginable and forces each of them to confront questions about faith, love, and the possibility of the miraculous.

Chapter One

The cop happened to look up at just the right instant or he would have missed it, not the actual impalement, but the fall itself. It took him a disorienting second to realize what he was seeing, the swelling black mass against the white stone and glass of the hotel facade, and then it was finished, with a sound that he knew he would carry to his grave.

After that, he took a minute or so to sit on the bumper of his car with his head down low, so as not to pollute the crime scene with his own vomit, and then reported the event on his radio. He called it in as a 31, which was the Miami PD code for a homicide, although it could have been an accident or a jumper. But it felt like a homicide, for reasons the cop could not then explain. While he waited for the sirens, he looked up at the row of balconies that made up the face of the Trianon Hotel. The thought briefly crossed his mind that he ought to go and check the guy out to make sure that he was actually dead...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

The New York Times

… Valley of Bones has enough originality to back up its easily excited imagination. And at its core is the kind of ineffable mystery that's worth more than the corpse-out-a-window kind. Mr. Gruber is at least as eager to fathom the violent and the unknown as he is to exploit these things. Some books simply relish the darker sides of human nature. Mr. Gruber summons them with troubled inquisitiveness, with both brio and regret.

Denver Post

The Stephen King of crime writing.

The Washington Post - Patrick Anderson

Michael Gruber's second novel, Valley of Bones, like his first, last year's acclaimed Tropic of Night, challenges the reader to accept the reality of an unseen world. In the first book, his focus was powerful African sorcery, brought to this country by an angry black man and used for criminal ends. Valley of Bones is equally fascinating and even more troubling because its subject is the power of Christian faith, as embodied in a woman who may be a saint or may simply be delusional. Either way, the tormented, painfully candid Emmylou Dideroff is one of the great characters in recent popular fiction.

Booklist - Frank Sennett

... the story takes its sweet time getting up to full speed. But once it finally does, the characters--especially Emmylou--spirit readers along toward a richly rendered Joan of Arc meets Lawrence of Arabia climax.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred review. Gruber intersperses the Miami action with scenes from Emmylou's possibly confessional notebooks detailing her at first lurid and then heroic past, tossing in searing sex, African civil-war carnage, wonderfully serious religious thought, great tenderness, and some of the snappiest byplay since William Powell and Myrna Loy. No second-novel slump here. Gruber has drawn even with John Sandford and has power to spare.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Gruber's new mystery/thriller more than fulfills the promise of his dazzling Tropic of Night (2003)...evocative prose, an erudite author, spellbinding subject matter and totally original characters add up to make this one a knockout.

Reader Reviews

Erin

*
This was a fairly good story with a nicely driving plot. The author manages to drive attention and still keep the reader guessing throughout the story. The detail is well done and researched. Overall, a great tale.

mary

A disappointment
I loved all Gruber's previous books, but found this one less than enthralling. It needs editing - it's way too long without adding much to the story. I found my attention wandering as he jumps from character to character or gets overly involved in ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Although Tropic of Night was his first book in his own name, Gruber has ghost-written 14 books for his cousin Robert Tanenbaum (his mother and Tanenbaum's mother are sisters). According to Publishers Weekly, in 1984 Tanenbaum, a successful trial lawyer, called him from his offices in Los Angeles asking him to look at the first hundred pages of a book he had written at the request of a publishing house. Gruber says "I called him, and I said, 'This is unsalvageable. It's not a novel, it has no characters, no plot, nothing.'"

In return for half the advance, Gruber rewrote the novel, they renegotiated the contract and went into...

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