Starvation Lake, Bryan Gruley, Touchstone, $14.00.
Mystery fans who have been waiting for the return of Steve Hamilton's Alex McKnight can take comfort that talented newcomer Bryan Gruley has filled the gap with his look into life in tiny Starvation Lake, Michigan, complete with hockey, and lots of it. Though the subject matter is similar to Hamilton's, the general tone of the novel is darker and more psychological than Hamilton tends to be.
This book centers on Gus Carpenter, who went to the big city of Detroit to make good after blowing the town's chance at a state hockey title. He indeed ends up as a reporter for the "Detroit Times" (which could be either the Free Press or News) where he got into a moral dilemma over a story about a car company's negligence. The nuances of that story are teased out throughout the novel, so I'm not going to give anything away there, but I will say that this particular aspect of the story adds both depth and emotional punch to the novel as a whole.
Meanwhile, Gus is unhappily working as the editor of his tiny hometown paper. Every story that could have even any vaguely political aspect is killed by the lawyers at the parent company, much to the disgust of Gus' one talented, young, aspiring reporter. Gus swallows his frustration as he wants to keep his job, but when the snowmobile of his old coach is discovered in a local lake—the wrong lake, according to every previous account of the coach's accident—he can't help but become more involved, especially when bullet holes are found in the remnant of the snowmobile.
Woven through Gruley's narrative is an account of Gus' experience playing hockey, both as a kid on the local team and later in life, as an adult, playing with the same guys he's grown up with, where the grudges have had a chance to harden and become more vicious. As each layer of this heartbreaking story is pulled back, the ending, while in a way a surprise, also seems inevitable. The prose is beautiful, and the characters are well drawn and indelible. This is definitely a new author to keep an eye on.
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