Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Another Visit to Starvation Lake

This is the third novel in Brian Gruley's Starvation Lake trilogy, following Starvation Lake and The Hanging Tree. The main protagonist is Gus Carpenter who was once a hot-shot reporter in Detroit, but who has now returned home to tiny Starvation Lake in northern Michigan to edit the town's twice-weekly newspaper.

Gus, like the paper, has seen better days. As a youth he was a major hockey star--a goalie who led the local team to the state championship game only to lose the game when he allowed the winning goal in a moment of inattention. Gus has never forgotten it; he's really never gotten over it, and there are any number of townspeople who won't let the memory die either. The championship game was Starvation Lake's moment in the sun and the team, and the town, fell one goal short of greatness.

The town, like Gus and its newspaper, has fallen on hard times. The local economy is in the dumpster and efforts to revive the town as a tourist destination have fallen woefully short. If that weren't bad enough, the town is now under threat from the "Bingo Night Burglar" who is breaking into homes while the occupants are away playing bingo. Oddly, the burglar doesn't ever seem to steal anything, but naturally the town's residents are nervous and more than a little angry with the local sheriff who seems incapable of bringing this crime spree to an end.

At the same time, a group of fundamentalist Christians have moved into town and are excavating land that they have recently purchased for reasons that no one can figure out. In addition, some mysterious purchaser is suddenly buying up land at the north end of the lake for which the town is named, hiding behind the cover of a law firm.

Things take a nasty turn when someone, presumably the Bingo Night Burglar, kills an elderly woman who was the best friend of Gus Carpenter's mother and who was also the mother of Gus's ex-girlfriend, Darlene. Gus's mother, Bea, was in the house at the time of the killing, but she is suffering from advancing dementia and doesn't remember much about what happened that night.

Gus puts on his investigative reporter's hat and attempts to sort out the multiple mysteries that are plaguing Starvation Lake, with the assistance of his new ace reporter, Luke Whistler. Before long, he's up to his neck in mysterious developments both ancient and current, and before things are settled out, some of these mysteries will hit way too close to home.

This is another very engaging book from a very good writer. Gruley is best at setting the scene and describing the nature of life in this small struggling town. He's also very good at developing the characters who populate Starvation Lake. If I have any complaint about the book, it would be that the plot seems unneccessarily convoluted and left me shaking my head a bit by the time I got to the climax. For that reason, I'd probably rate this book a 3.5 or a 3.75 if I had the chance, but not having the opportunity, I'm rounding it up to a 4 because of its obvious strengths.

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