Carter County setting for Ross’ latest thriller ‘Skeleton Valley

10:26 am | April 23, 2012

When Dr. James R. Ross penned his last book, “Skeleton Valley,” it was only fitting that Carter County be the setting for the mystery-thriller genre, as he spent the better part of his teen years in Elizabethton.

Dr. James Ross

Ross attended T.A. Dugger Junior High School and graduated from Elizabethton High School. He went on to graduate from the University of Tennessee and received his Master’s Degree in Periodontology from Ohio State University. He was a co-founder of Periodontal Associates of Memphis, but lived in nearby Collierville. Ross worked nearly 25 years in private practice.

Ross was known by his friends to love to tell stories. Bill McClellan of Johnson City had been friends with Ross since their days of attending school together in Elizabethton. McClellan and Ross graduated together from Elizabethton High in 1952. “His family came to Elizabethton with TVA before they began working on the Watauga Dam,” McClellan recalls.

“Skeleton Valley” was published in December of 2011, just a couple of months before Dr. Ross died on February 24 at the age of 77 after a long battle with cancer. He had retired in 1999 and had focused much of his time since then on writing. In addition to “Skeleton Valley,” Ross was author of “The Snake’s Hand” and “The Last Reunion,” which was his first published novel.

In “The Last Reunion,” Ross takes character Jake Rule through his 50th high school reunion.

“As he greets old classmates, Jake is transported back to the wondrous days of his high school years: 1948-1952,” according to the blurb on the book. “He recalls four turbulent, incredible years: nights at Taylor’s Drug Store, camping trips gone wrong, blond bleach girls, local bootleggers, disappointment, loss and triumph.”

“Skeleton Valley” is a novel about the rise and fall of corruption in fictional “Skeleton Valley” in Carter County. Sheriff Bob Arrowood is a popular and legendary law officer in upper East Tennessee. He marries the wealthiest and prettiest girl in Carter County, Betty Lou, which only solidifies the public’s opinion of him. When Sheriff Arrowood selects James Wilbur Grindstaff, a World War II decorated veteran, as chief deputy, Grindstaff couldn’t be happier. But as times go on, the chief deputy has a hard time ignoring the dark side of Sheriff Arrowood, who he holds in high regard.

Unbeknownst to the public, their beloved Sheriff Arrowood has become corrupted by money, which he has obtained from an illegal operation in Skeleton Valley. When his dark side threatens the lives of two young citizens, Grindstaff knows he has to intervene and face the wrath of his boss. He must decide if he should continue to protect the beloved sheriff’s reputation, or expose him for what he really is.

In the end, Grindstaff intervenes and Sheriff Arrowood felt the sting of death in Skeleton Valley. Grindstaff protected the sheriff’s reputation and was elected next in a long line of heroic sheriffs from Carter County.

What you read might surprise you. Readers may expect Grindstaff to do one thing, but what he chooses to do shows them that good with always prevail over evil.

Ross in an interview before his death said he did not intend for the book to change the lives of his readers, but he did want them to think about justice throughout the book and in their life. His work portrays the message that accepting corruption, for whatever reason, doesn’t fare well in the long run for anyone involved.

He said he was influenced by the works of John Grisham, Louis L’amour and Tom Clancey. Ross said he often drew on his experiences of his own and others for his novels.

“Skeleton Valley,” though full of suspense, is easy reading and very entertaining. Local readers will be mused by the storyline and some of the names that Ross refers to in the book.

Ross and his wife, Lucy, lived on a Collierville farm known as Richglen, where they grew organic food. He was the father of two sons and had five grandchildren.

Dr. Ross and his wife traveled extensively, visiting 102 countries and all seven continents.

All of Ross’ novels can be ordered through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or can be purchased by emailing

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