Book Review: Purgatory Bay by Bryan Gruley
By John ValeriJanuary 14, 2020
Purgatory Bay by Bryan Gruley is the sequel to the Amazon Charts-bestselling Bleak Harbor, where misdeeds of the past must be faced in order to find kidnapping victims before it’s too late.
Bryan Gruley is a veteran journalist who has shared in the Pulitzer Prize awarded to the Wall Street Journal for coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He is also the author of the Starvation Lake Trilogy—Starvation Lake, The Hanging Tree, and Skeleton Box—and the recipient of Anthony, Barry, and Strand Awards as well as an Edgar Award nominee. Last year, he made his Thomas & Mercer debut with the Amazon Charts bestselling Bleak Harbor; this January, he returns with its continuation, Purgatory Bay.
As the story opens, 39-year-old Michaela “Mikey” Deming—a former newspaper reporter—is on the road to Bleak Harbor, Michigan, with her daughter, Bridget, who will be playing in a high-stakes hockey tournament. Mikey’s sister, Ophelia, a blind sculpture artist who lives in town, has been anticipating their visit but is unresponsive to news of their imminent arrival. The next morning, Ophelia’s boyfriend, Gary (a onetime cop who now works as an investigator for the local prosecutor), does a search of her house and discovers two things beyond Ophelia’s absence/abduction: a cryptic “goodby” note that may or may not be written in her hand and a Super 8 hotel key.
Meanwhile, millennial Jubilee Rathman lives in nearby Purgatory Bay where she has secluded herself from the world in a veritable fortress that she shares with her underling, Caleb, who oversees a fleet of weaponized drones. Twelve years ago, Jubilee’s parents and one of her siblings were slaughtered in a hit ordered by Detroit’s preeminent mob family, the Petruglias. She has vowed revenge against those she holds responsible for her family’s misfortune and the subsequent miscarriage of justice—including Mikey, whose reporting may have put them in the crosshairs. But if experience has taught her anything, it’s that truly hurting somebody means hurting those they love.
Police Chief Katya Malone (who also appeared in Bleak Harbor) is no stranger to pain, either. A divorcee whose daughter died tragically (and tragically young), she’s still reeling from her last missing-persons case but wants desperately to bring Ophelia home alive. This means confronting a tangled and far-reaching web of crime and corruption—and taking on a mastermind with motives and means beyond comprehension. There are considerations that extend beyond Ophelia’s disappearance, as well, which both limit her autonomy and have the power to influence her professional livelihood. Just how far is she willing to go in the name of righteousness—and who might she alienate in the process?
The narrative unravels through multiple viewpoints that encompass both central and periphery figures. This is an effective tool for rich character development and the escalation of tensions, as even bit players are given their due before meeting their (potential) demise. The author excels at inhabiting the gray areas that exist between good and bad, right and wrong; consequently, ethical and moral dilemmas abound, the complexities of which underscore political power in and around the aptly named Purgatory Bay, where everybody is in some kind of (often unwitting) limbo. This ultimately results in each character’s deepest vulnerabilities, whether they lie within the person or beyond them, being exposed and/or exploited.
Purgatory Bay is an eerie, evocative thriller that succeeds as both a standalone and a continuation story. Gruley combines the instincts of a journalist with the intuition of a novelist, skillfully contrasting the timeliness of technological advancements with the time-tested provocations for murder and martyrdom. This one is hard to put down—and even harder to forget.