Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley

Reviewed by Jeanne

Gus Carpenter grew up in the town of Starvation Lake, escaped to become a reporter at the Detroit Times, and now with has journalist career in tatters he’s editing the hometown paper.  His out of town bosses aren’t fans of hard-hitting news stories or even medium hitting: they want the social news, local sports, and stories that will encourage advertising.  The rest of the town isn’t really welcoming either, since they hold Gus responsible for missing that one goal that would have won the state high school hockey championship.  It was the town’s one shot at fame, and things have gone downhill ever since.  If they could, they’d even blame him for the death of Jack Blackburn, the coach who almost took them all the way, only to die in a snowmobile accident on the lake.

Now pieces of that old snowmobile have turned up—in the wrong lake.  What really happened that night? And what other secrets lie hidden in Starvation Lake?

When this book came out in 2009, it received a lot of praise from the mystery readers on the DorothyL list.  They talked about the good writing, the strong characterization and clever plotting.  One even said that she never thought she would read and enjoy a book about hockey.  I didn’t think I would either, which is why I put off reading it this long.  On the other hand, one patron I recommended the book to didn’t like it so as penance I decided I had better read it before I suggested it to anyone else.

The verdict?  I enjoyed it. I will say that the book started a bit slowly, but much of it was letting the reader get a feel for the town and the people. The town is almost a character itself:  it reminded me of so many of the little towns here in the mountains where jobs are few but the people keep trying to hang on with steely determination and sometimes just sheer cussedness. The plot, like the town, has its share of grit and its share of shady business deals and political maneuvering.   There is a lot of hockey action but understanding or even caring about the game isn’t required; he does use it to good advantage in revealing certain aspects of personality.

Gus, the narrator, is a wholly believable creation; we may not always agree with his choices but we understand why he makes them.  Most of the rest of the cast are people from Gus’ past, his friends and his enemies. These are people he’s known his whole life, which means there’s a lot of personal baggage associated. In a few places the reader may spot things before Gus does simply because he’s too close to parts of the story.

Despite the slow start, the story gained steam and I raced through the last 150 pages to see what would happen.  There were some good twists and turns in both plot and action, and a mostly satisfying resolution.  I’m already reading the second book, The Hanging Tree, and so far I would say that you wouldn’t have to read the books in order. I just prefer to do so.  The third book is The Skeleton Box and, according to his website, he’s at work on a fourth.

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