Saturday, March 7, 2009
Death and Hockey in Northern Michigan
Starvation Lake, by Bryan Gruley (Touchstone)
Bryan Gruley is the Chicago bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, but don't expect any business secrets in his smashing debut thriller. Gruley has either played or is obsessed with the lower depths of amateur hockey, is as familiar with the backwaters of Michigan as he is with his computer keyboard, and knows how to drag you kicking and screaming into a story so gripping that you'll probably devour it in one gulp – like the heavenly-sounding egg pie served at Audrey's Diner.
“Cheddar cheese and scrambled eggs bubbled up through a golden cocoon of Italian bread... Steam billowed from the sausage, bacon, potatoes, green peppers, mushrooms and onions baked inside...” No starvation here; I could live on these alone.
George Pelecanos, Michael Harvey, Marcus Sakey, Kevin Guilfoile, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly and C.J. Box are among the top crime novelists who have already linked Gruley's name with Dennis Lehane, especially to his classic Mystic River. The mood is similar: ordinary people living up to their failures, trying to balance dreams and reality when tragedy strikes too close to home.
Gus Carpenter is the associate editor of the local paper, forced home to Starvation Lake where his shrewd mother still lives after a promising job at a Detroit paper imploded. One freezing night, the remains of a snowmobile are found in Starvation Lake – the same machine in which Carpenter's former hockey coach died after crashing through the ice some years back on another lake a few miles away. Evidence of the coach's murder is discovered, and the mystery of how the snowmobile got into Starvation Lake adds a another baffling element. There's a rumor of secret tunnels between the lakes.
When he was a boy, the undersized Gus idolized his father's hero, hockey goalie Gordie Howe, and played that position with skill and courage – until the game when he let a state championship get away, crushing his coach's dreams and earning the town's hatred. Now he's looking into the murder of his former coach. But even more unsettling to Gus are the increasing gaps in his home town's past, plus the growing suspicion that some of the people closest to him may have killed to hide Starvation Lake's darkest secrets.
Hockey fan or not, this one's a definite keeper – especially served with egg pie from Audrey's.