Rating: 4.5 stars
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Length: Novel

Ellery is happy. Sure, he wishes his roof didn’t leak and his bookstore would be more profitable, but he really is happy and it might just have to do with the morning visits he is currently enjoying from a certain police chief. Once the recent murder at Pirate’s Cove had been solved and Ellery was cleared of wrongdoing, he and Jack Carson started seeing one another regularly. Well, it’s only coffee and that doesn’t really mean anything, but still, Jack is someone Ellery would like to get to know better. But Ellery’s track record with relationships is pretty abysmal so he’s trying to keep his desire to date said police chief in check and just enjoy the developing friendship instead.

Yes, everything is looking up until Ellery is informed who purchased the remote Skull House property and who is no doubt eventually going to come to town to live in it one day. Never in his wildest dreams did he expect his ex, horror author Brandon Abbott, to be the new owner or to arrive quite so soon. Nor did he expect that after seven long years of welcome silence from the egotistical man, he’d reappear, seeming to harbor the idea of reigniting their very dead relationship.

Secret at Skull House is the second novel in Josh Lanyon’s Secrets and Scrabble series and, while I thought it was impossible to do so, I love Ellery even more. Once again, the amateur sleuth is back in the spotlight and another murder is the reason why. This time the mystery surrounds one of Ellery’s ex-boyfriends, Brandon Abbot. Brandon is not the nicest of men and he and Ellery ended their brief relationship on a sour note, but that doesn’t keep the pompous, adulation-hungry author from seeking out Ellery immediately upon arriving in Pirate’s Cove and attempting to push his way back into Ellery’s life.

Just when things seemed to be moving forward with Jack—a real date has been proposed—Brandon is back to screw things up. Still, it seems that the man is more interested in the secrets surrounding a twenty-year-old cold case that saw the murder of a local football jock and the subsequent disappearance of his alleged killer, a local teen who seemed immune to said jock’s advances. But digging around in the past is a deadly occupation and Brandon soon becomes its victim. Once again, poor Ellery is the prime suspect and any dream of something developing between he and Jack is dashed.

Life just seems to stick it to poor Ellery every chance it gets. Mere moments after being cleared of a previous murder, he finds himself the sole suspect in Brandon’s death. However, the real knife to the chest isn’t just that the local newspaper editor has it out for him once again—smearing his reputation in the form of scathing front page news–but that any chance of he and Jack moving their relationship to the next step is now dead on arrival. Not only does Jack turn icy and all professionally distant on Ellery, but he begins removing himself from their growing friendship even before Brandon’s body is discovered and Ellery is accused of the crime. Ellery should have known—he is lousy at this dating thing and abysmal at relationships.

Still Ellery is determined to figure out who killed his ex and, with the help of his friends, he plans on doing just that. But the determined silence surrounding the twenty-year-old murder is very real and even those who like Ellery refuse to talk about the time when they were teens and no doubt present at the very party where the whole thing occurred. Someone committed murder a long time ago and is doing it again to cover their crime. Now all Ellery has to do is uncover who that person is and not get himself killed in the process.

I must say that the mystery portion of this novel is the main story and any hint of a relationship developing between Ellery and Jack is a mere second to that. In fact, the case could be made that there is no real hint of any kind of status change in their floundering friendship at all except a damaging one when Ellery is hauled in for questioning by a very aloof Jack. I have to admit that made me sad; I really wanted these two to get together in this novel, but still, I must admit all may not yet be lost in that department. The murder and subsequent window into town life and the quirky occupants of Pirate’s Cove are really nicely done. This side cast of characters is just so bizarre and rich in gossipy old hens that you can’t help but be intrigued as to how fast information flies round the town. Thankfully, most of them really like Ellery—I’d hate to see what would happen if they didn’t.

It is the real murderer who surprised me in this story. I was totally unsuspecting of this person and that makes me so happy. Being an avid mystery reader, I so often come up with the solution before the end of a book; in this case, I was a bit bowled over as to who the culprit turned out to be. Lanyon really planted so many possibilities when it came to who did the deed by hinging the current death of Brandon on the past mystery surrounding the death and disappearance of two of the town’s teens so many years before. I really enjoyed how this novel evolved and kept me guessing to the end.

I am looking forward to another story from this tiny cove and hoping Ellery and Jack become more than friends. That may be a distant dream, but still the two of them could make for a wonderful couple and the idea of learning more about the quiet Jack makes me hunger for the next installment even more. In the meanwhile, I must say that Secret at Skull House is a worthy sequel to its predecessor and an entertaining novel all the way round.

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