Thursday, February 10, 2011

Review: The Hanging Tree by Bryan Gruley

I have learned that you can be too grateful for love. [1st sentence]

The Hanging Tree by Bryan Gruley
Touchstone, 2010
Crime Fiction; 336 pgs

It was actually after having read a couple of very positive book blog reviews of The Hanging Tree that I decided to read Starvation Lake Starvation Lake, the first book in the series. I ended up really liking Starvation Lake, especially for the sense of place it created and the flawed and interesting characters. The Hanging Tree was written in much the same vein. I found the mystery more tightly woven than it had been in the first book, and what I especially liked about the first book was ever present in this sequel as well.

Gus Carpenter is a small town journalist. He had once been on his way to winning a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting but bad choices led to his downfall. He returned home with his tail between his legs. The Hanging Tree picks up where Starvation Lake left off; Gus isn't the most well liked person in town, his digging for the truth often coming into conflict with the town's plans expand and boost the sunken economy.

Starvation Lake is a hockey-crazed town. Gus himself plays hockey in an area league. He wants a new rink as much as anyone. However, he upsets a lot of people by reporting on the financial woes of the financier of the proposed new hockey rink. Even his employers are up in arms and do what they can to try and prevent Gus from causing any more ruckus than he already has. If that isn't bad enough, matters are complicated for Gus when his second cousin, Gracie, is found dead, hanging from a tree. Her death in all appearances is a suicide, but something about it doesn't sit well with Gus or Darlene, Gracie's best friend and a local sheriff deputy. Gus begins to doubt Gracie's death was a suicide.

The more he digs into both his cousin's death and the wealthy financier of the rink, the more secrets he uncovers, and those secrets involve some very powerful people. Gus will risk his job and possibly his life to get to the truth.

Like Starvation Lake, The Hanging Tree is a character-driven novel. The author takes his time weaving together the intricate stories of his characters as well as the main plot point. While this book would stand very well on its own (the author does a good job of bringing the reader up to date without revealing the plot in the first book), I am glad I had the background provided in Starvation Lake when beginning this one. Knowing the characters' histories in more detail only enhanced my enjoyment of The Hanging Tree.

Gus has grown since the first novel and yet he still grapples with the mistakes he has made in the past. He has a lot on his plate. His girlfriend's estranged husband reappears and only adds to his personal problems. His relationship with his now deceased cousin had been strained at best and he is beginning to realize just how little he truly knew her. And Gus' mother is struggling with bouts of memory loss, her own health deteriorating. His work helps keep him focused and often leads him to truths about himself and those close to him that he might not have known otherwise.

Bryan Gruley adeptly addresses the changing scene of the newspaper business in the United States, giving readers a first hand look at the waning interesting in paper sales and the growing interest in online media resources. I confess I'm one of those people who long ago stopped subscribing to the actual newspaper but do subscribe to several online news sources. It's fast and convenient--not to mention cleaner (no black ink to wash off), trends our society values more and more.

The Hanging Tree is a great sequel to Starvation Lake and I look forward to seeing what the author has in store for his readers next.

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

Source: Book provided by publisher for review.

© 2011, 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. Glad to see there was no sophomore slump for this author. It does sound like the books should be read in order, though, so I'm making a note of Starvation Lake.

  2. I think I would have a problem with Gus' character because of the nosy reporter part. Maybe I'm just used to reading (and watching) characters who really look down on them?

  3. You made a really solid case for this book. I wish I could speed read :) That way i could read everything that all my friends loved!!!

  4. I have not read either of these and will surely need to remedy that right away - great insight into it!

  5. It sounds like these books have a great sense of character development, which is something I really need when reading this genre. I am glad to hear that you liked both of these books and look forward to reading them myself soon. Wonderful review!

  6. I must get to this one. I used it as a teaser the other week and now I need to dig in.

  7. Sounds like I need to read the first one and then this one. Great review!

  8. I hadn't realized the sequel was out. I'm so glad it is and that you liked it as much as the first.

  9. Thank you for your thoughtful comments! Forgive me for not answering comments individually right now. Things are quite hectic right now, but I really do appreciate you taking the time to write.

    I do think it would be a good idea to read these in order if you are able. While I think they could stand alone, there's so much back story in the first book that it would make it all the more worthwhile reading that one first.


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