While my friends were Kicking the Hornet’s Nest with Stieg Larsson last weekend, I spent the holiday on Starvation Lake with author Bryan Gruley. Forget the fact that I was basking in the sun and under deadline to review an entirely different book, Gruley had me tensed and trudging through the freezing, knee-deep snows of northern Michigan.
Starvation Lake is a mystery with hockey at its heart, and Gruley has scored the perfect hat trick with his ice-time thriller; fast, intense, and tough. Like the unsuspecting octopus, Gruley tosses the reader headlong onto the rink and straight into the action alongside main character Gus Carpenter:
“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.”
Hockey is the perfect metaphor for Gruley’s ever-curving plot, and keeping your eye on the puck is a challenge well worth taking. When the missing snowmobile of Starvation Lake’s famed former coach mysteriously resurfaces along its icy shores, it elicits an eerie restlessness from the locals, and as the ensuing investigation’s forensic evidence bubbles to the surface, so too do the bizarre and inconsistent events leading up to the coach’s demise.
Starvation Lake is stacked and immediately flicks on the mental projector, leaving no doubt that this mystery could easily make its way to the big screen. Gruley’s characters are beautifully fleshed-out; gritty in their resilience and painfully true to their struggling small town. His characters are familiar enough to enchant yet remain deeply private, casting just enough doubt as to who the playmakers of Starvation Lake really are. In essence, Gruley has set up the perfect whodunit.
For those of you who know nothing of hockey or its superstitions do not be deterred, this mystery reads well regardless. Though Gruley’s dialogue and setting have serious midwestern appeal, Starvation Lake has range and doesn’t fall short crossing over. A tight story of friendship, hardship, and redemption, Mr. Gruley has crafted a fine mystery revolving around both the rink and the larger arena of life.
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-Post by Megan Shaffer
Notes of Interest
-I first stumbled upon author Bryan Gruley while I was checking out The Edgar Nominees for 2010. One thing led to another, and I quickly realized that Mr. Gruley is one of Michigan’s own. According to the book’s reading group guide Bryan Gruley grew up in Redford, “a blue-collar suburb abutting Detroit on the west side.” As for the setting of his novel? It is based on the areas surrounding the author’s childhood cottage on Big Twin Lake in northern Michigan.
-Bryan Gruley’s site for Starvation Lake is really unique. My personal jury is still out due to the fact that I pulled it up after reading the book and the forced voice and visuals toyed with my conceived sounds and images of the story. It is definitely worth checking out as authors get more aggressive and creative with their marketing. You can check out the Starvation Lake site here.