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Finalist for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, Harlan Coben meets early Dennis Lehane in this “smashing debut thriller” (Chicago Tribune), set in a small northern Michigan town by a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist.
In the dead of a Michigan winter, pieces of a snowmobile wash up near the crumbling, small town of Starvation Lake—the same snowmobile that went down with Starvation’s legendary hockey coach years earlier. But everybody knows Coach Blackburn's accident happened five miles away on a different lake. As rumors buzz about mysterious underground tunnels, the evidence from the snowmobile says one thing: murder.
Gus Carpenter, editor of the local newspaper, has recently returned to Starvation after a failed attempt to make it big at the Detroit Times. In his youth, Gus was the goalie who let a state championship get away, crushing Coach's dreams and earning the town's enmity. Now he's investigating the murder of his former coach. But even more unsettling to Gus are the holes in the town’s past and the gnawing suspicion that those holes may conceal some dark and disturbing secrets—secrets that some of the people closest to him may have killed to keep.
About the Author
Bryan Gruley is reporter at large for Bloomberg News and the former Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal. He has won the Anthony, Barry, and Strand Awards and was nominated for an Edgar Award for best first novel. He lives with his wife in Chicago. Visit BryanGruley.com.
Read an Excerpt
The cast-iron railing wobbled in his hand as he climbed the porch steps. He nearly fell over. After three tries, he decided the doorbell didn't work. The screen door wouldn't give, so he stripped off a glove and rapped on the aluminum frame. Paint the color of pea soup was peeling off the face of the inside door.
A cold drop of rain leaked through the awning over his head and splatted on the back of his neck. He put a hand to his neck and looked up as another drop splashed on his cheek. "Shit," he said, taking a step back and pulling his camouflage jacket tight around the package tucked within.
He looked down the street. Not a person in sight. Two Fords, a Chrysler, and his Chevy pickup truck waited at the curb. A single porch light flickered wanly in the dusk. Two doors down, charring from a fire blackened one side of the house, and wind ruffled the drapes where a windowpane had once been. He looked down. Brown stains pocked the concrete porch, down the three steps, and along the walk to the street. The stains seemed to grow bigger as they neared the curb. He hoped they weren't blood.
He rapped again. Dammit, he thought, I knew I should have just sent it the usual way. Four hours down to this shithole city and now I gotta wait around? How the hell does the guy work in this dump? There's a darkroom in there? He looked at his watch. If he could get this done in the next hour he would still have time to visit one of the Windsor clubs before heading home.
He heard something moving inside, then footsteps on the other side of the door. He swallowed hard and took another step back. Just a delivery, he thought. Just leave the thing and go.
The door eased open a crack. He smelled cabbage and cigarettes. A woman's pale round face appeared above the hand holding the door. She seemed to be wearing nothing but a flannel shirt that drooped to her knees.
"What?" she said.
"Riddle. Got something for Charley."
He slipped the manila envelope out from under his coat.
"Riddle? You a joker?"
She had an accent he didn't recognize. Jesus Christ, he thought, is she going to understand a word I say?
"It's my name. Is Charley here?"
The envelope was wrapped in tape and rubber bands. She looked at it with contempt.
"No Charley. We don't want no delivery."
"This is the address he gave me." He glanced at the address plate nailed to the brick. "Cecil Avenue, right?"
A man's voice called out from inside. "Magda!"
She yelled at him in her language. He barked something else, sounding closer now, and she stormed away, leaving the inside door ajar.
The man swung the door open wide. He stood barefoot in a pair of paint-stained sweatpants and a gray T-shirt that said Property of Detroit Lions. A single brow overhung his dark, sunken eyes. He held the door with one hand and kept the other behind his back.
"What you want?"
"I was supposed to bring this for Charley."
"Charley?" The man almost smiled, then decided against it. "Jarek."
"Jarek?" Riddle chuckled nervously. "Jarek, Charley. Got it. Can I leave this for him?"
The man shifted his weight from his left foot to his right, keeping his one hand hidden. Riddle tried not to look at it.
"You are from up north?" the man said.
"Yes, sir. About four hours."
The man stared at Riddle for a moment. "Why do you wear army jacket?" he said. "Are you in military?"
Riddle glanced self-consciously at his camouflage jacket. "Oh, no sir. This is for hunting. Deer, rabbits, you know. "
"Aha. You are a killer then. Did you bring gun?"
"My gun? Oh, no sir. That's locked up at home, yes sir."
The man tilted his head slightly. "Would you like to come in?"
"Thank you, but no, I really have to be going. Got a long haul back. Got other deliveries to make, you know. Sorry."
"Other deliveries?" The man leaned forward. "What other deliveries?"
Riddle glanced down the street again. Still not a soul. The last light of afternoon was nearly gone. "Nothing," he said. "I just have to get back."
"Jarek is not here."
"No. Not here anymore."
"I see. Well." Riddle tried on what he imagined to be a businesslike smile. "Do you know where I can find him?" He wished he hadn't asked the question the second it left his lips.
"Jarek will not be back. You can leave it with me."
The man pushed open the screen door with his hidden hand. The hand held an unlit cigarette. Riddle gave the man the envelope.
"OK, then," Riddle said. "You'll send it back to the usual place?"
The man slammed the door without another word. Copyright © 2009 by Bryan Gruley
You can never look into their eyes. Not once. Not for a second. Not if you're a goaltender, like me. Because the guy shooting the puck wants you to look there. Then he'll glance one way and shoot the other, or he'll draw your eyes up just as he snaps the puck between your legs. Or he'll lock on you just long enough to remind you that he knows exactly what he's about to do and you don't, that you're just wishing and hoping that you'll guess right. That you're not at all in control.
Then you're dead.
It was nearly midnight. I was tending the hockey goal at the south end of the John D. Blackburn Memorial Ice Arena. And I was yelling for help. Soupy backpedaled across the rink to give me some. It looked like he'd make it just in time to cut off the other team's winger when his skate blade caught a gash in the ice and he went flying. His helmet, an old three-piece Cooper held together by skate laces and friction tape, bounced off of his head and went skittering into the boards.
"Fuck me!" he shouted.
Boynton sidestepped Soupy and the helmet and veered to the center of the ice, heading my way, alone. He was tall and lean, dressed all in black, and he kept his head up as he crossed the blue line, looking for my eyes. I focused on the puck as he slid it back and forth, from the back of his stick to the front. My team was up, 2-1. Less than a minute remained in the game. My left hand, steamy inside my catching glove, whacked once against my belly, involuntarily, and shot out to my side, open and ready. My right arm pressed the bottom edge of my goalie stick against the sandpaper ice. I dropped my squat an inch, dug the inner toe of my right skate into the ice, and glided back six inches, a foot. I tucked my head into my neck. The thin slick of sweat beneath my mask stung my cheeks. I blinked, hard.
I didn't want to be there. In a drafty hockey rink reeking of refrigerant. Late. In a two-stoplight town clinging to the southeastern tip of a frozen lake in northern lower Michigan. I'd left the place years before, a failure, intending never to return. Now I was back, against my weak will, after failing miserably someplace else. By day, I was the associate editor of the Pine County Pilot, circulation 4,733, published every day but Sunday. By night I tended goal in the Midnight Hour Men's League, surrounded by men I'd known as boys. In between I waited for something to change my life, to get me out of Starvation Lake again. That's what goalies do. They wait.
When Boynton had closed to fifteen feet, I felt him drop his right shoulder as if to shoot. Just then, the puck bounced on something a shaving of ice, a sliver of wood and tottered on an edge. I glimpsed the chipped scarlet paint of a logo on the underside. I dropped to one knee and flung my stick forward, catching just enough of the wobbling puck to flop it back over Boynton's stick blade. It trickled behind him, and Soupy, bareheaded, swooped in and golfed it clear.
Boynton kept coming, though. I was trying to get to my feet when his stick cracked me under the left ear, below the edge of the mask. A shock of pain tore through my jawbone and rippled down my neck. Boynton's knee speared my chest and I toppled over backward, my head bouncing on the ice as he fell on me. The smells of snuff and hops and sweat and tape filled my nostrils. I could hear a whistle shrieking, again and again. I opened my eyes. Boynton's face was two inches away, a grin beneath dark eyes. "Lucky fuck," he spat before I blacked out.
My wait was over.
The needle punctured the skin along my jawbone and I dug my fingernails into the soft wood of Leo's workbench as he stitched me. I had tried to numb the left side of my face with a fistful of snow, but the pinpricks stung anyway. The cut took six stitches to close.
"Thanks, Leo," I said. The air in the big steel shed behind Blackburn Arena was sweet with gasoline. I sipped a beer in a circle of light spread by a bulb hanging from the high ceiling. Leo moved out of the light to toss his stitching needle into a wastebasket. It pinged on one of his empty 7-Up bottles.
"Try to be more careful," Leo said, emerging into the light again. "You boys aren't boys anymore."
For something like thirty years, Leo Redpath had maintained the rink's compressors and ice scrapers and Zamboni machine. He performed the odd carpentry and plumbing chores that kept the dressing rooms, snack bar, and restrooms in working order. Mostly he kept to himself, content to tinker in his shed and tend to the Zamboni he affectionately called Ethel. And although Leo was no doctor, his workbench sometimes doubled as an operating table for players who didn't want to bother with the local clinic. Leo had been doing it so long that he barely left scars anymore.
"See the game tonight?" I said.
"I never watch," Leo said.
I smiled at his lie. The stitches tugged at my chin. I could make out his wide, hunched-over shape shuffling around in the shadows surrounding Ethel. "You don't see hockey like that too often in Starvation Lake."
"I'm sure no truer words were ever spoken," he said.
"It's that deceptive speed, eh, Trap?" The voice came from the other end of the shed. Soupy walked in with a beer in one hand and two more dangling from a plastic six-pack holder. "We're even slower than we look."
It was one of his favorite lines, and he laughed at it, by himself.
Leo stepped out from behind Ethel. "Well, if it isn't Sonja Henie," he said. "Was that a triple salchow that landed you on your derriere?"
"Derriere?" Soupy said. "Derri-fucking-aire? Haven't we told you like eight million times to speak English around here? I think the word you're looking for is 'ass,' my friend. And who the hell is Sonja Henie?"
"Leo didn't watch," I said. Talking hurt.
"True," Leo said. "But I did catch a glimpse while carrying a box of Junior Mints to the snack bar."
I jumped down from the workbench. My teeth rattled when I landed. "Well, then, maybe you noticed whether Soupy punched Boynton's ticket on his way past?"
"Blow me, Trap," Soupy said. He stood a head taller than me, long and lanky in a blue denim overcoat with the words "Starvation Lake Marina" encircling an anchor embroidered over the left breast. Thick blond curls furled out from under his red woolen cap. "Gave you a chance to shine. You ought to thank me."
"I would have but I was unconscious."
I finished my beer, tossed the can at the wastebasket, missed, and motioned for one of Soupy's beers. Leo picked up the empty.
"Ultimate Teddy Boynton assault and battery," Soupy said. "You poke-check him, he runs you over." While I was out cold, as Soupy explained, Boynton threatened to punch a referee, who threw him out of the game. "The bastard probably didn't mean to knock you out. Or who knows, maybe he did." Soupy took a long pull on his beer. "He probably didn't like your editorial."
I had no idea Soupy read editorials. "Probably not." I looked around the shed. Leo had disappeared behind Ethel again. "We have a meeting tomorrow."
"With Teddy boy?" Soupy asked.
"And his lawyer."
"His asshole lawyer, Trap."
Soupy touched his beer to the side of his head. "Try to keep your head up this time, huh?"
"Quiet, please." Leo was trying to listen to the police scanner. It sat on a stack of milk crates, keeping him company on slow nights. We heard some crackling and some beeps, then the voice of the dispatcher, Darlene Esper. She was talking with a deputy on his way to Walleye Lake. A snowmobile had washed up onshore.
"Christ," I said. It was probably nothing. But every local over the age of fifty had a police scanner next to the bed, on the garage workbench, or on the shelf over the washing machine, and they'd all be talking about that snowmobile on Walleye Lake at Audrey's Diner the next morning. I grabbed Leo's rotary phone and dialed the sheriff 's department. One of the perks of being associate editor of the Pilot was knowing that number by heart. Darlene answered.
"Deputy Esper," I said. "Gus Carpenter." I hoped for a chuckle. Darlene and I had grown up next door to each other. Our mothers had finally given up trying to marry us. So had Darlene.
"Gussy," she said. "You hear about the sled?"
"You better get out there. Sheriff's out there."
"Dingus? Why, is there an all-you-can-eat buffet?"
"Just go, Gus."
I lingered on the phone her voice always got me that way but she'd already hung up. I zipped up my parka, fished out my truck keys. "Leo, thanks for the embroidery," I said. He didn't answer.
"Can't keep away from her, can you?" Soupy said.
"Good skate, Soup," was all I said.
As I stepped into the night, I heard him call out: "Mrs. Darlene Esper sweetest ta-tas in Starvation Lake." Copyright © 2009 by Bryan Gruley
What People are Saying About This
"Bryan Gruley digs into the frozen ground of northern Michigan and unearths a gem. Tough story-telling and compelling writing, Starvation Lake is a wonderful debut."--(Michael Harvey, author of The Chicago Way and The Fifth Floor)
"Starvation Lake is a tremendous read, a twisting ride peopled with vivid characters and a wonderfully evoked sense of place. You heard it here first--Bryan Gruley is here to stay."--(Marcus Sakey, author of The Blade Itself and Good People)
"Bryan Gruley's Starvation Lake introduces a welcome, human voice to crime fiction readers."
"A great debut from a major talent."--(New York Times bestselling author, Harlan Coben)
"Starvation Lake is a wonderful surprise! It is one of those books that won't shake its grip. Bryan Gruley is off to a phenomenal start!"
"A terrific debut by a talented author to watch...Starvation Lake is a smorgasbord of colorful local characters, a great sense of place, hockey, PBR, small-town newspapers...but most of all the clinical dissection of a little town with big secrets. Authentic and thought-provoking."--(C.J. Box, author of Three Weeks to Say Goodbye and Below Zero)
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide includes discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Bryan Gruley. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Questions for Discussion
1. Some of the residents of Starvation Lake seem to think that opening the Blackburn investigation is only stirring up the mud, and would prefer to keep the past in the past. “Why bother? Nobody here wants to know the truth anyway” (361). Should the town be made aware of the truth, or do you think that the investigation opens old wounds unnecessarily?
2. Starvation Lake is a hockey town. How has the sport, and his failure to save a championship-winning shot in particular, informed the way Gus has lived his life?
3. In Starvation Lake, the newspaper, television station, lawyers and police force often compete with one another to piece together clues and uncover evidence. Do you think that this is an accurate portrayal of how the media and law enforcement interact with one another in the real world?
4. As a coach, Jack Blackburn emphasized “the ultimate goal” of winning the state championship, and even told his players that “losing is good for winning” (59). Discuss this coaching technique. Do you agree or disagree with this approach? Does his coaching style provide any insight towards his crimes?
5. To what do you attribute Gus’s naiveté regarding the felonies going on “right under his nose” during his youth? Do you think the guilt he feels for being unaware is warranted?
6. Blackburn attributes the “demand” for his willingness to “supply,” and states, “Because people are going to get it anyway, one way or another” (425). Given his rationale, does Blackburn’s refusal to accept responsibility have any validity? Who do you think has committed the greater crime – the person who provides the illegal material, or the person who consumes it?
7. How did the discovery that Jeff Champagne has followed in Coach Blackburn’s footsteps affect your understanding of Blackburn’s crimes? (440)
8. Discuss Gus’s relationship with his father. How does the realization that his father was involved in Blackburn’s scheme affect Gus’s memories? Do you think that there may be more to discover regarding Gus’s father in the upcoming books in the series?
9. By the end of the novel, has Gus’s failed save in overtime at the state championship game ceased to haunt him? Has Starvation Lake finally been given something else to talk about?
10. “Many of the rules of journalism are dressed in shades of gray” (187). By the end of the novel do you consider Gus to be a moral journalist? Which of his career decisions have helped you come to this conclusion? Beyond his experiences as a young man on a newspaper staff, what do you think motivated Gus to become a reporter?
11. What do you think the future holds for each character? Gus? Darlene? Joanie?
Enhance Your Book Club
Starvation Lake is a real place! Read about the legend that lent the town its name: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starvation_Lake
Perlmutter is the local Sasquatch expert of Starvation Lake but there are tons of supposed Big Foot sighting in Michigan State: http://www.michiganbigfoot.org/sightings.html
Learn the ins and outs of ice hockey goaltending here:
A Conversation with Bryan Gruley
How has your background in journalism helped prepare you to write mystery fiction? Is Gus inspired by anyone you know?
My years working for newspapers small and large helped me invent the Pine County Pilot and informed much of Gus’s behavior and choices relating to his journalistic present, past, and future. As for writing a mystery novel, per se, I didn’t set out to write a genre mystery; I just wanted to tell a story. Storytelling has been a big part of my journalistic career, both as a reporter who loves to write nonfiction narratives and an editor who encourages others to write them. Turns out the story I chose to make up in Starvation Lake is a mystery. OK. I think most novels are essentially mysteries, wherein authors pose questions and answer them as they see fit.
The question about Gus reminds me of the time I told my Wall Street Journal colleague Greg Jaffe, a great narrative writer, that I was writing a novel. “Don’t tell me it’s about a hockey-playing journalist,” he said. Very funny. Actually, though, Gus is an amalgam of many people I have known, journalists and not, and just as all of them have influenced who I am in one way or another, they have influenced the way Gus apprehends and interacts with his world. So, I suppose there’s a bit of me in Gus, although I am not a goaltender, at six feet two I’m a head taller than Gus, and almost none of what happens in the book ever happened to me.
What is your personal connection to the setting of the novel? Are you a Michigander? Could you see this story taking place anywhere aside from Starvation Lake?
I grew up in Redford, a blue-collar suburb abutting Detroit on the west side. In 1971, my parents bought a cottage on Big Twin Lake, about forty miles northeast of Traverse City in the northern Lower Peninsula. It’s probably my favorite place on earth. I’m writing the answers to these questions at that cottage, sitting on an oak swing that faces the lake between a pair of ancient birch trees. For dinner, I’m planning on a patty melt at the Hide-A-Way Bar on the real Starvation Lake a few miles from here.
Although Starvation Lake is purely fiction, the scenes, the food, the dialogue, the weather, the very streets of the town are inspired by things I have seen, heard, tasted, and smelled in the nearly forty years I have been visiting (and my summer spent as a reporting intern at the Bellaire News, not far from here). For instance, Bea Carpenter lives in a yellow house because there are a couple of yellow houses on Big Twin that I love looking at from the water. But this story could happen anyplace, small or big, where the need to win blinds people to the nefarious compromises that winning often requires. While I tried to create a little world that would be at once alluring and dangerous, the events and characters that populate it aren’t necessarily peculiar to northern Michigan; I’ve never met anyone up here even remotely like Jack Blackburn.
Are there any mystery or thriller novelists you particularly admire? Are there any artists in other mediums who influence your work?
I read widely and eclectically, so many writers have worked their charms on me, from Franklin W. Dixon to Flannery O’Connor to Howard Norman to Pete Dexter. The older I get, the more I appreciate great stories told well, and the less patience I have for writers who, as Elmore Leonard says, engage in “hooptedoodle” (showing off ). That isn’t to say I’m not guilty, but I’m trying to beat the rap. A beach vacation introduced me to Thomas Harris, and I loved Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. One thriller writer whose work gave me impetus is Michael Connelly. Reading his book The Poet some years back, while aware that Connelly is an ex-journalist, made me think I could take a whack at novels and have fun doing it.
Has anybody my age not been influenced by the Star Wars trilogy? OK, my wife, but I can watch the first three flicks again and again and love them every time. But really just about every damn thing influences me—movies, cartoons, commercials, songs on the radio, brief items I see in newspapers. I carry around a little notebook to jot things down I might want to use. And I keep my ears open in the rink dressing room and on the bench when I’m playing hockey.
Are the underground tunnels referenced in the book based on an existing urban legend? Why did you decide to include information about the tunnels but never prove or disprove their existence within the story?
A rural legend, but yes, the tunnels were inspired by tales my brother Dave told me about sunken boats disappearing on Torch Lake, a gorgeous expanse of water in the northern Lower Peninsula. I chose not to prove or disprove their existence because it wasn’t necessary, and I’m not really sure yet whether they exist or not. There’s a chance they’ll turn up again in a future book.
Would you please discuss the Leo Redpath character? How does he act as a foil for Blackburn? How do you hope readers will judge him?
I love Leo Redpath. That doesn’t mean I admire him, although he has some admirable traits. I love Leo just as I love many people in my life who have made mistakes, and just as many people in my life have forgiven my flaws and foibles. Although Leo shares—or shared—certain characteristics with Blackburn, he was trying to move in a different direction. I don’t expect readers to admire Leo or even like him, but I hope they’ll empathize.
Each character in the book is flawed in some way. Was it important to you that all of the characters were realistic, without one clear hero and one clear villain?
In retrospect, yes. I can’t honestly say I had this sort of ambiguity in the forefront of my mind when I started to write Starvation Lake, but that’s how it turned out. That could be because I love watching characters struggle against their imperfections, from Holden Caulfield to Christian Bale’s Batman. It probably owes as well to my day job, where many of the most interesting stories are richly ambiguous. Besides, all goaltenders are flawed. Who in their right mind would play such a position?
What can readers expect next from you?
I’m back in northern Michigan trying to figure that out: What will become of Gus and Darlene? How might a rich ex–auto executive named Haskell help or hurt Starvation Lake? Why would Dingus and his deputies be called to a tree filled with old shoes outside of town? Has the ghost of a vengeful killer returned to haunt Starvation? How will Gus fare as a winger instead of a goaltender?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Starvation Lake mixes a mystery with a rural Michigan setting and lots of hockey. Gus Carpenter, editor of 'The Pilot', the Starvation Lake, Minnesota local paper, was a small town boy who had made good. Gus had been the goalie of the local hockey team then gone off to college where he majored in journalism and then on to Detroit where he set his sights on Pulitzer Prize. His story, though, instead of making his career, all but ended it, forcing him to return to Starvation Lake in somewhat disgrace. Gus found that the last ten years had not been any kinder to Starvation Lake than to him. This is a terrific novel! I highly recommended!
I heard an interview with this Writer, Bryan Gruley, on WGN radio in Chicago. After the interview, I had to buy the book. It sounded really interesting. After I read the book, I was glad I did. I usually can't remember titles if I don't write them down, but this title was very memorable: "Starvation Lake". It is a great mystery set in resort town in Michigan. What is it about? Hockey and Murder. If you're not a hockey fan you might not understand the difference, but this is a book filled with great characters who live in a small town on a lake in Michigan. The main character is a disgraced reporter who almost made it big by breaking a big story and winning a Pulitzer . . . but instead he returns home to Starvation Lake to run the local newspaper. It is a typical small town newspaper and his staff consists three people. The town is dying because he made a mistake as a teenager, and the stuggle to save the town is filled with dirty small town deals behind closed doors between men who never let their highschool problems die. So where does hockey come into this story? As a teenager, the reporter was the goalie for the town's high school hockey team. Starvation Lake was put on the map by a legendary coach and a small band of players who captured the attention of the entire state of Michigan by making it into the state championship hockey game only to lose it in overtime on a bad play by the reporter/goalie. The entire town never forgave him, and after the loss the town went into a state of decline. No one is surprised that he lost his big city reporter job and had to come home with his tail between his legs. All the men in the town play in a hockey league, and their off ice struggles to save the town frequently boil over into violence in the hockey rink. The author makes you care about these unlikely likeable characters. This book is funny and insightful, and the mystery is first class. You don't have to like hoceky to like this book. It paints a very vivid picture of working class people from Michigan who love the outdoors and the natural beauty of their state. Their values are very blue collar and honest. Their stuggles to make ends meet are real especially in this economy. Their crimes also fit the times, and the mystery is very complex. The author reveals the answers to clues in unexpected ways. He stayed a step ahead of me right to the very end. This book might not appeal to everyone because it is blue collar and hockey is not for everyone. But try reading a few pages of it and see if it catches your interest. The characters are very likeable and the mystery is a good one. I passed it on to my wife, and she is still reading. When I asked here what she thought, she said the mystery has her hooked. I truly hope this author writes another novel soon because this was a fun read and an amazing first novel. I especially liked all the characters, and I hope I can visit them in Starvation Lake again in another book by Bryan Gruley.
In STARVATION LAKE, Bryan Gruley has won the Best First Mystery Novel of the Year in my estimation. The atmosphere of Michigan small town winters, and the emphasis on hockey for all of the townspeople was expertly described. Trials and failures of writing truthful, non-libelous newspaper stories were intriguing and drove the mystery expertly. BUT most importantly, in Gus Carpenter, we have an intense, imaginative, well developed new mystery lead character whose story reads like true confessions from an old friend. The mystery of what happened with a called accident, now called murder, captures the excitement of everyone in Starvation Lake. Once boys and families just wanted to "win" the hockey championship, but with the mystery of what happened to "coach", the whole town begins to realize that they really do not know anything for sure anymore. What was really happening one season years ago has changed the town forever. Gruley has taken the thrill of a group of hockey players fighting to make a goal, and won himself a score for a great new mystery series.
Did you ever start reading a book and didn't want to put it down, even if it made you late for work? "Starvation Lake" by Bryan Gruley did that to me. I didn't know what to expect when I began reading it, but once I started and got involved in the life of Gus and the small town newspaper the Pilot, I was taken in. He creates characters with such intensity that you get to know them inside and out. The flashbacks to Gus' adolescent hockey games made me care for him more. As the story develops, I couldn't help wonder where it where and what it was leading to. Mr. Gruley certainly knows how to write great mysteries.
Author uses brilliant imagery in developing his characters and setting his scenes. All five senses are put into play as he pulls his readers into the story. I felt as though I had been Gus' childhood friend and teammate. The story sucked me in. I couldn't put it down until the middle of the night when my eyes were burning and could no longer function. Great read! Question. is Audrey's egg pie real? Gruley's description has my mouth watering for one!
In Starvation Lake, Michigan everyone is shook up when pieces of a snowmobile wash ashore at Lake Walleye. Sheriff Dingus Aho puts a close hold on the investigation, but rumors spread that the snowmobile is the one driven by legendary peewee ice hockey coach Jack Blackburn who died ten years while riding one at Starvation Lake.
Thirty-four years old Gus Carpenter, the editor of the local paper Pilot, and his ace reporter Joanne McCarthy makes inquires into the current case, which leads back to what happened to the coach in 1998. Their investigation leads to a decade earlier when Gus as a goalie let in the winning shot in the State Championship and back to the 1970sd when Coach worked with kids in Canada. However, Gus has legal issues involving an unidentified source back when he worked in Detroit that has him somewhat distracted as he knows the family oriented Pilot may be his last stop on the way back down the same ladder he had climbed up.
Although there are too many references to the lost hockey game that allegedly destroyed the town especially by an odious participant turned builder who belongs in the penalty box, fans of sports mysteries will enjoy this fun investigative thriller. The story line is driven by the townsfolk as everyone seems to have secrets even the hero¿s widow mom. Gus is a terrific lead character who holds his anger in check as no one will let him forget the goal that changed Lake Salvation. Joanne reminds him of himself when he was on the way up until he learned at the Detroit Times how in bed the media and the corporations are. Bryan Gruley provides a winning goal that places the small-town hockey atmosphere of Mystery, Alaska inside a Michigan mystery.
I recently retired and am searching for authors of mystery series. I read Starvation Lake as #1 in an unfamiliar series, and I am looking forward to working my way through the rest of the books by Bryan Gruley. This was an excellent story of a man, a community, and a crime. I enjoyed the development of each aspect, and by the end I felt like I really belonged. Gruley's writing is spare and direct. He doesn't frustrate with a lot of red herrings and blind leads, but he does require you pay attention--you will be surprised by the ending!
This was a great mystery. I would end up reading it for hours at a time, too good to put down
This is an excellent book for being a first timer. It is a very good mystery story. Didn't know what to expect from this author, but I was not at all disappointed with the effort. I can now look forward to reading his latest story "The Hanging Tree". I have confidence it will be every bit as good as the first. I am a big hockey fan, so I enjoyed his story line.
If you love Michigan and/or hockey you will like this book. I learned a lot about the psychology of hockey. Good escape reading - especially during Stanley Cup time.
At the end of every chapter I couldn't stop. I had to get to the next one. Great characters in a wonderfully detailed locale.
I love mysteries, and do not mind sidelines with other interests. This book is not for people like me. If you love hockey and do not mind a murder mystery on the side, you'll probably like it. Plot twist at the end was the only part I really enjoyed. Waste of my money for this reason...wish I had just checked it out at the library instead of purchasing.
My first book by this author. I love all the hometown phrases...two track...sleds...downstate.Written by someone who has spent time "up north", a place we all love and would like to keep to ourselves.That being said, the story is way to wordy,I will read the next in the series because I like the scenery he writes about...To all of you idiots who use your nook to send messages to each other...BUY A COMPUTER and leave this space for people who enjoy reading.
I was undecided to give one star or two; I went with two because this author seems to have promise. I only paid $1.99 for the nook book, so I can't complain too much about wasted money, just wasted time. I skimmed through much of the book because of the long, drawn out descriptions of hockey games. I could never understand the psyche of people in towns that get wrapped up in high school sports to the point that their own self-worth is tied to the success of the team. This is going on in this book, although the hockey team is a club team, not a school team. The main character is a bit of a wuss who lets his employees speak to him disrespectfully, and never seems to respond to the put-downs the town's people hurl at him about a long-ago game. The story drags in many spots, including the ending which could have been handled quicker. I won't be reading anything else by this author, even for $1.99.
Yes, it is but the author is a long-time journalist and you know how that adds to a first novel. I loved it and am looking forward to his second, due October 2010. Don't read if you are squeamish about pedophilia.
This book has a very "Mystic River" feel to it. Even the titles are similar as they both reference bodies of water. Gus Carpenter is a reporter for the local newspaper (The Pilot). One day he spies the police recovering what looks like the snowmobile that belonged to his hockey coach (Blackburn) who supposedly drowned in Starvation Lake several years earlier. As Gus tries to investigate the details of what actually happened to Blackburn, everybody seems to not want to talk to him from the police to his own mother. What makes it worse is that everybody has an attitude like they are hiding something "dirty" but forget about it and move on. Meanwhile Gus is dealing with a few problems of his own such as it seems he was mysteriously run out of Detroit from a reporting job that he had. As Gus lets the details come to the surface, the reader learns that Gus must give up a source from a story he covered or he will face going to jail and also lose a cash settlement for a family he tried to help. This book had all the elements to be great but what hurt it for me is that people make it too obvious throughout that they are hiding something. As the book unfolds the "dirty" secret surrounding Blackburn becomes apparent to the reader, while it takes Gus till close to the end of the book to figure it out. Also the reader can guess what actually befell Blackburn so it is no secret when it is actually revealed. I give this book about three and a half stars but round it grudgingly up to four.
A complex and deep story with many different characters dealing with smalltown angst. Brush up on your northern hockey knowledge as Gruley uses the sport throughout the story. If you're looking for love, love lost, sports, jealousy, action, murder, and drama, with a twisted little peek at the darker side in all of us, this is a great little trip. Well written yet easy to read. Keeps you entertained while you learn more and more about the people in the story trying to figure out exactly what everyone's up to. Good fun and should make for a nice weekend read on a lake trip!
I should start by saying that I am not a sports fan and of all the sports I am not a fan of, hockey is at the top of the list. Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley has at its heart a love of amateur hockey as played by kids and men who still want to be kids in a Northern Michigan town. In spite of this, I really liked the book. The principal character is believable and likable, the plot is all too realistic and he has even set himself up for a nice sequel.
Book was to centered on hockey. Skipped over most of those pages. Didnt find it interesting till the last 50 pages or so.
I had to read at least half of the book before it ventured into the mystery. After 150 pages it finally became interesting.
I bought this book and the second one of the series at the same time, big mistake. I don' t think I will be reading the second one. I found the main charactor Gus annoying, and I didn' t like any of the other people much either. Skimmed through alot of the hockey parts and there is alot of that. I did like that the story took place in Michigan, my home state, which is why I purchased these books in the first place.