Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Michael Gruber has made a welcome addition to detective literature with the introduction of Jimmy Paz in his first outing, Tropic of Night. After having saved Miami from the throes of a serial killer, he returns once again in Valley of Bones and is faced with a very different task.
A wealthy oilman plunges ten stories down to his death, and in his room is a seemingly insane woman with religious inclinations. She wants to confess… but ends up writing entire notebooks’ worth of details stretching far beyond this one crime. Could there be some truth to the deranged woman’s delirium?
Table of contents
Michael Gruber Resumes the Story
The detective genre, despite being arguably one of the greatest classics in any domain, has begun to grow stale somewhat recently. Authors either keep sticking to the tried and true methods, or take risks which often don’t pay off nearly as well as they had hoped to… in other words, seems there are fewer and fewer novels which might end up considered as classics one day. When Michael Gruber came out with Tropic of Night , I believe many of us were dearly hoping it would only mark the start of a new series rather than turn out to be a one-off deal.
Thankfully enough, the book found a great amount of success, enough to warrant the return of now-famous detective Jimmy Paz, responsible for freeing Miami from the grasp of the voodoo murders. Needless to say, a tropical city will always have blood boiling hot somewhere, a new murder mystery on the horizon. In Valley of Bones, we see Jimmy Paz return for his second literary outing as a wealthy oil businessman falls to his death from his hotel room.
In Valley of Bones the scene of the crime itself wasn’t exactly remarkable for the most part. A rookie cop, Tito Morales, responds to a regular disturbance call, thinking nothing of it. After he witnesses the businessman plunging to his death, he goes on to examine his room and is joined by detective Paz just in time. Inside, they find a rather peculiar woman who seems to be stuck in some sort of delirious trance.
It takes her little time to confess she not only had reasons to kill the man, but this wasn’t the first time evil took hold of her. After writing several notebooks’ worth of confessions, the question arises: is she telling the truth, is she insane, or is this her attempt at creating an insanity plea?
The things she reveals include an abusive childhood, communions with devils and saints, and not to mention an array of other crimes. As Paz and Tito try to untangle this bloody web, more and more people appear with the intention of preventing the confessions from going public… one of them being Paz’s biological father. Unfortunately for them, it’s only the beginning of the mess they just got themselves wrapped up in.
Mysticism and Demonology
With how well Michael Gruber managed to depict the culture of voodoo in his last book, I believe it was a wise idea to continue along the lines of mysticism, and this time we’re exploring Christianity and demonology. The insane woman whose case Paz gets embroiled in serves as our corridor to various spiritual and theological concepts, and Gruber doesn’t shy away from injecting his personal philosophy into his deliberations.
The struggle Paz endures when facing his own materialism and spirituality feels quite real and will speak to anyone who has or is contending with these sorts of questions. There is certainly a healthy amount of food for thought is the author uses his many threads to explore life from an all-encompassing, almost cosmic point of view, at times making you forget there is actually a murder mystery happening.
Don’t you see you are a corpse too after what was done to you and the true life is waiting for you to pick it up.― Michael Gruber, Valley of Bones
Along the way we also receive a rather healthy dose of education on various subjects, some of which we’d be hard-pressed to seek out on our own, including: psychometric testing, evangelism, the state of mental care, entomology, anthropology and even art history. I do admit it sounds as if this is the type of book to splay itself all over the place, Michael Gruber uses his magic touch to make it all work seamlessly in the actual story.
These bits of information never feel as if they are forced down our throats or out of context; there is always some form of connection to the events in Valley of Bones and, most importantly, he makes us curious about these subjects before exploring them. Mixed together, all of those elements play a rather important role in making this story feel like something entirely unique and a breath of fresh air in the genre.
Twists of Mystery
With all the spiritual and philosophical elements going on, we shouldn’t forget there is an actual detective story in here, and as it happens, I found it to be a damn good one. The entire premise of Valley of Bones revolving around the woman who may or may not be crazy certainly helps to keep us hooked, wondering which parts of her story are true and which are false. We are constantly trying to decipher her motivations, what she’s actually guilty of, and whether she even believes the things she says herself.
She is definitely one of the more interesting catalysts I’ve seen for a detective mystery, at least in recent memory. I would even dare to venture and say she took up as much importance in the story as our beloved detective himself, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Speaking of which, Jimmy Paz is as flawed and interesting as ever, especially since Gruber is now opening up on him a bit more, revealing his inner world to a greater extent. We can sense there is definitely more to his character and, ultimately, he is a man of hidden depths and layers on his own spiritual journey.
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Additionally, I found his chemistry with Tito to have felt real enough to justify them partnering together; the rookie was a welcome contrast and change of pace to Paz’s weathered outlook on life. The mystery itself is at least as powerful as the one in the previous book, with the thread unfolding and taking you into increasingly depraved territory. It remains intelligent from beginning to end and subverted my expectations time and time again in a positive way, which I believe is one of the primary elements making a successful mystery.
The Final Verdict
With all things said and done, Valley of Bones by Michael Gruber is a fantastic addition to the Jimmy Paz series, building on the positive points from the previous one and introducing some new elements. It has the perfect mixture of murder mystery, spiritual exploration and theological education, with a plot which knows how to sink its claws into you. I highly recommend it if you want to see what Michael Gruber is all about, or enjoy murder mysteries and want a solid work off the beaten track.
God really wants to talk to us. He tried Scripture, he tries the still small voice, but we’re all unbelievers now, so he mainly speaks to us through a conspiracy of accidents.― Michael Gruber, Valley of Bones
Michael Gruber is an American author living in Seattle with a PhD in biology from the University of Miami. He has gone through a number of careers before settling on writer, including marine biologist and policy advisor for the Jimmy Carter White House.
In addition to ghostwriting a large number of Robert K. Tanenbaum’s novels, such as Enemy Within and True Justice, he has published a number of his own acclaimed works including The Book of Air and Shadows and The Return.