Thursday, December 09, 2010

Review: Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley

The cast-iron railing wobbled in his hand as he climbed the porch steps. He nearly fell over. After three tries, he decided the doorbell didn't work. The screen wouldn't give, so he striped off a glove and rapped on the aluminum frame. Paint the color of pea soup was peeling off the face of the inside door. [1st paragraph]

Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley
Touchstone, 2009
Crime Fiction; 384 pgs

Gus Carpenter left Starvation Lake to make a name for himself and to exonerate himself for a shame that had been lain on his shoulders when he was a boy playing hockey. He'd nearly done it too, but circumstances landed him back in his hometown, his image and reputation as a newspaper reporter tarnished. He works as an editor for the local paper in town, where his bosses prefer softer news to hard hitting stories. When new evidence surfaces about the death of his childhood hockey coach who had died many years before, several people in Starvation Lake would rather leave the past in the past. What was perceived as an accident all those years ago, is now being investigated as a murder. The more Gus discovers, the more he realizes just how little he knew his coach--and several of the other townsfolk.

I went into the novel hoping for a fast-paced read but found the book to be slow going at first. The author took his time setting the background and preparing the reader for what was to come. I was never bored, however. I settled into the novel and let it suck me in. And suck me in it did. While the mystery is significant to the novel, so are the relationships and side stories presented on the pages of the book.

The sense of place is strong throughout the novel. Starvation Lake by name alone doesn't sound like an inviting place to live, but it is a beautiful mountain lakeside town like many others (in my own reading and visualization of the town, it was like a mountain town, but CJ pointed out in her comment it isn't one. I've never been to Michigan and so have no reference--I tend to pull images out of my own memory or from pictures I've seen. When I read the next book I'll try and think Lake Elsinore instead of Lake Tahoe.). The name of the town is quite fitting in some respects--more than just for the reason given in the novel. The town has suffered its share of financial woes and is struggling to stay afloat. Business is hurting. The town is also full of secrets, some darker than others.

As the story unfolded, it picked up speed and came together in a satisfying way. I feel like I was right there, alongside the characters. Each of the characters was fully developed, none without their own flaws. I liked the fact that the novel had so many layers to it. I am really curious about the author's next book in the series and hope to read it soon.

Rating: * (Very Good)

You can learn more about Bryan Gruley and his books on the author's website.

Source: My copy of Starvation Lake was provided by the publisher for review.

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. This sounds like a great mystery/thriller. On my list it goes.

  2. Two quick things -

    One, the second book is called The Hanging Tree and is just as good.

    And two, there's something I need to correct in your review. You refer to Starvation Lake as a 'mountain town'. While Starvation Lake itself is fictional, the area isn't. It's the northern lower peninsula of Michigan and sorry, no mountains in the area.

    If you want to know the general area, look for Petoskey/Charlevoix on a map of Michigan and you'll be in the ball park.

    Glad you enjoyed it, LF. Hanging Tree is the book that kept me up so late not long ago.


  3. Glad to hear that you enjoyed this one, even though it was a bit slower of a read for you in the beginning. I am not sure if this would be one for me, as I am not that heavily into crime fiction, but your description of it as being multi-layered does intrigue. very nice review on this book. It was much appreciated!

  4. Diane - I do hope you read it! I really like the author's writing style and the way he tells a story.

    CJ - Thanks, for the clarification, CJ.

    When I think of lakes I tend to think of mountains as that's where I spent many of my summers growing up. And I tend to associate snow with mountains even though I know it snows other places as well--just not where I live. So, when I visualized Starvation Lake in my mind, it was always a mountain town. After living where I do for the past 10 years, you'd think I would be more apt to think of the nearby Lake Elsinore, which was a great resort town in its own day. The mountains are off in the distance. There's no snow there though--it rarely gets cold enough for it. Anyhow, thanks for the clarification. I've never been to Michigan and so my imagination automatically took me to my more familiar scenes and impressions.

    I happen to have a copy of The Hanging Tree sitting right here. Hopefully I'll get to it before the year is out. I have a few other books that come before it though. I'm glad to hear you liked that one as well!

  5. Zibilee (Heather) - Although the mystery element is significant in this novel, I don't think it's a typical genre mystery. There's a lot more to it. Not that it means you would like it, but I think that some who don't mind a crime in their fiction might get something out of this one too.

  6. I really liked the newspaper scenes in this book. Every small newspaper is like the one here, and I felt like I *knew* the characters. I did find the plot a little predictable, but I did enjoy it. I haven't read the second book yet, but hope to soon.

  7. Sounds interesting, and I'm glad to know it starts slowly but picks up the pace.

  8. I find I don't read a lot of mytery/crime novels although I don't know why - I do enjoy them. This one sounds good even though it's slow in the beginning. I think that's a cool title.

  9. Sounds like just "my thing"!.

    Got a question for you re: review books? Did you recieve this in 2009? (I have a pile of 2009 books I haven't reviewed yet) Do you email your contact letting them know you've posted the review when you are rather behind in posting?

    I can't decide if they'll appreciate knowing I did (eventually) review their book, or just think bad thoughts at me for being so late! Opinion appreciated.

  10. I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I remember it being a slow but good read for me too.

  11. Thanks to all for the kind words about my first novel!

  12. This just sounds fantastic -- a multi-layered mystery novel? Heck, yeah -- I look forward to picking this one up!

  13. I've got this on my TBR list or shelf or as an eBook. Not sure which one it is, but I'm looking forward to it. So glad you enjoyed it.

  14. Karen - I'm looking forward to reading the second book. I worked for a small paper for a brief time one summer while in college and it was a great experience. It was a bit bigger than the Pilot in Starvation Lake though. What I remember most is the importance of advertisements to keep money coming in and the wide variety of milkshakes offered at a Mom and Pop shop just down the street . . .

    Anna - I probably would not have noticed the slow start had I not been anticipating a book I could race through. Fortunately my reading mood was flexible and the story and characters pulled me in right away. It's one of those good slows as opposed to a bad one, you know? The kind that make you slow down and savor the moment.

    Darlene - Your reading of mystery/crime novels sounds like my reading of fantasy--I really like the genre (love it even) but don't seem to read a lot of it. Crime fiction is my comfort read more often than not and so I always find myself coming back to it again and again.

    Nicola - I would love to know what you think of it, Nicola! I e-mailed you (as you already know :-)) a response to your questions.

  15. Bryan - Thank you so much for dropping in and commenting! I have your second book sitting right here and am looking forward to diving in.

  16. Kris - I am glad you enjoyed it as well, Kris!

    Natalie - Those are my favorite kind of mysteries!

    Joy - I hope you will enjoy it,Joy, when you get to it!

    Kathleen - It was. I'm glad I read it.


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