STARVATION LAKE by Bryan Gruley
Iâ€™d gone off to Detroit so that someday I might be able to come back to Starvation and walk up to Elvis and tell him, â€ś Why donâ€™t you go to hell, so what if I lost a stupid hockey game years ago? Look at me now, a big-city reporter, a Pulitzer Prize winner.â€ť But there I was, just another local loser who worked at the little paper across the street with the shaker shingles over the door and the sign in the window that read, â€śPeerless Pilot Personals Will Put You on the Path to Pleasure and Profit.â€ť
Review by Lynn Harnett (MAY 16, 2010)
- Chicago Wall Street Journal bureau chief Gruley has hit on a winning combination for his debut novel â€“ visceral amateur hockey and in-your-face small-town newspapering.
Narrator Gus Carpenter, hockey goalie and editor of the Pilot, isnâ€™t too happy about either role. He had escaped insular Starvation Lake, Michigan, and landed a job at the Detroit News intending never to look back. But the big story that was supposed to win him a Pulitzer earned him a one-way ticket back home in disgrace instead.
Now Gus, best known as the guy who lost his hometown team its one hard-fought chance to win the youth state hockey championship, is back tending goal with the same bunch of older, if not wiser, guys and back working for the same little rag that put him through college.
His old boss was glad to get him but for Gus the joy is gone. The fun of small-town newspapering is the privilege â€“ no, the obligation â€“ to stick your nose in anywhere the public right-to-know is served, be it the financing of the new marina or the bullet holes in the rusted old snowmobile the cops just pulled out of the wrong lake.
But Gus, burned by his own ambition into crossing an ethical line back in Detroit, hounded now with the threat of jail if he doesnâ€™t give up his source, has lost the fire to root out secrets into the light of day, to expose liars and cheats and betrayers of the public trust, to anger the powers that be and rock the status quo.
So it falls to the young and hungry reporter Joanie to get the scoop on the possibly bullet-riddled snowmobile. Ten years earlier, after Gus had gone off to college, his childhood hockey coach, Jack Blackburn, the man who had brought Starvation Lakeâ€™s team within snatching distance of the state championship, had died in a snowmobile accident on Starvation Lake. He and his snowmobile had disappeared beneath the ice and neither was ever recovered. But now the snow machine has turned up in Walleye Lake.
And this is only the first of the anomalies and discrepancies that begin to surface in the original version of the accident, a version put together by multiple sources.
Joanie runs with a story that hints at murder and Gus spikes it. But his journalistic instincts â€“ a measured combination of curiosity and professional duty â€“ grind into motion. Gus pushes on, asking questions and digging in places long too long left undisturbed. Even his own mother is ready to see the back of him.
The story unfolds and unravels and rats run out from all the exposed places, just as youâ€™d expect. But this is a novel with crime rather than a crime novel, and itâ€™s the characters that hold your interest. Gus is a reflective man, coming to terms with the many ways deceit has directed the course of his life, from a blinkered boyhood to the self-serving manipulations of wily sources, from the evasions of friends and lovers to his own sometimes-devastating rationalizations.
All of the characters are richly depicted with private or hidden motivations that emerge in the course of the story and hint at depths Gus may never plumb.
Much of the storyâ€™s action and gore happens on the hockey rink. Old and new feuds play out, unspoken messages are delivered, secrets are revealed. Iâ€™ve never been a hockey fan but Gruley had me riveted.
Gruley knows his small-town newspaper, where everybody does everything and everybody knows everybody, where claustrophobia and professionalism go hand in glove and doing your job means offending your friends, your enemies and your advertisers.
With the character depth of Dennis Lehane and the atmospherics of Steve Hamilton, Gruleyâ€™s Edgar-nominated novel stands out from the crowd. Readers will look forward to Gus Carpenterâ€™s next appearance in Gruleyâ€™s second novel, The Hanging Tree, coming in August.
AMAZON READER RATING: from 100 readers PUBLISHER: Touchstone; Original edition (March 3, 2009) REVIEWER: Lynn Harnett AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now! AUTHOR WEBSITE: Bryan Gruley EXTRAS: Excerpt MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More newspaper stories, not necessarily mysteries:Occupational Hazzards by Jonathan Segura
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
The Room and The Chair by Lorraine Adams
Starvation Lake series:
- Paper Losses: A Modern Epic of Greed and Betrayal at America’s Two Largest Newspaper Companies (August 1993)