Sunday, March 08, 2009

Homicide and Hockey

Bryan Gruley is the Chicago bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, but don’t expect him to reveal any business secrets in his smashing debut thriller, Starvation Lake (Touchstone). The author 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 up at the fictional 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 pies alone.

George Pelecanos, Michael Harvey, Marcus Sakey, Kevin Guilfoile, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, and C.J. Box are among the top American crime novelists who have already linked Gruley’s name with Dennis Lehane, and likened Starvation Lake to 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 body of water a few miles away. Evidence of the coach’s murder is discovered, and the mystery of how the snowmobile got into Starvation Lake adds another baffling element. There’s an unlikely rumor of secret tunnels between the waterways.

When he was a boy, the undersized Gus idolized his father’s hero, hockey right wing Gordie Howe, and later played that same position with skill and courage--until the game during which he let a state championship get away, crushing his coach’s dreams and earning the town’s enmity. Now Gus is looking into the murder of his former coach. But even more unsettling to him are the multiplying gaps in his hometown’s past, plus the growing suspicion that some of the people closest to him may have killed in order to hide Starvation Lake’s darkest secrets.

Whether you’re a hockey fan or not, this novel is a definite keeper--especially when served with egg pie from Audrey’s.

READ MORE:Writer Bryan Gruley Talks About Small Towns, Hockey Nicknames, and Emotional Tension,” by Julia Buckley (Mysterious Musings).


Anonymous said...

although I'm not a hockey fsn I know this much, Gordie Howe was not a goalie.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Whoops. Thanks for pointing that out. Clearly, the folks staffing The Rap Sheet are not hockey fans, either. But we've now corrected Howe's position, as mentioned in this item, from goalie to right wing.