The book opens in February, 1998

“You can never look into their eyes.  Not once.  Not for a second.  Not if you’re a goaltender, like me.  Because the guy shooting the puck wants you to look there.  Then he’ll glance one way and shoot the other, or he’ll draw your eyes up just as he snaps the puck between your legs.  Or he’ll lock on you just long enough to remind you that he knows exactly what he’s about to do and you don’t, THAT YOU’RE JUST WISHING AND HOPING THAT YOU’LL GUESS RIGHT.  THAT YOU’RE NOT AT ALL IN CONTROL.”

It is those last couple of phrases that could sum up Gus Carpenter’s life.  He’s playing the same position he played when he was a kid growing up in Starvation Lake but he thought Starvation Lake was behind him when he was working for the DETROIT TIMES, when he was sure he had a Pulitzer prize winning story,  before it all fell apart.   Now he is back in Starvation Lake, editor and writer for the PILOT, Starvation Lake’s weekly newspaper.  He was wishing and hoping that he’d guessed right about the article he was writing, an article even too big for Detroit.  But he found out he wasn’t in control and he had to leave Detroit and return to the place on which he had turned his back, he was sure, forever.

At 34, Gus is playing hockey with the same group of men he had played with growing up, the same group of kids who had had their skills honed by Jack Blackburn, who had turned up out of nowhere in 1970 and had made them so good that they had almost won the state championship.  All these years later,  Starvation Lake hasn’t forgotten that Gus Carpenter  lost that game when he let the puck sail by.  He learned that night that all the wishing and hoping in the world couldn’t  guarantee that he would guess right.  He learned that despite the best coaching from Jack Blackburn, he wasn’t in control.  The town never let him forget and they were never going to forgive.

Jack Blackburn had built the reputation of Starvation Lake as the ideal year-round sports destination on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on the skates of this perfect hockey team he had created from a bunch of young boys who believed every word the coach said about their greatness and their futures in hockey.  He had become a major investor and the chief cheerleader for Starvation Lake.  Then the team lost the championship and Jack Blackburn died when a snowmobile he was riding fell through a hole in the ice on the lake.  His body was never found and the dreams of Starvation Lake as sports mecca died, too.

Ten years later, Jack Blackburn’s snowmobile resurfaces, not at Starvation Lake where witnesses claimed to have seen the accident, but at Walleye Lake, miles away.  What was truth is no longer truth and as Gus investigates he learns that there are many secrets in Starvation Lake that tell him he doesn’t really know the town at all.

STARVATION LAKE is a very good book.  Living near Boston when Bobby Orr was king of the ice, I know how obsessed even big cities can be about hockey.  It is the game played by 10 year-olds at 4:00 am, the only time available for practice.  One of my nephews is now the coach of a  hockey team in Sweden; he is a natural athlete.  He was blessed in that his father never thought he was going to be the  re-incarnation of Orr.  Hockey seems to impose itself on the people involved in it perhaps because it is the most physical game.   There is nothing like listening to parents screaming obscenities at 8 year old boys who think every game is a try-out for the NHL.  It is, however, a great game to watch.

So, if you are interested in hockey to any degree, this is a book for you.  If you have never seen a hockey puck and don’t know what a faceoff is but you enjoy a well-written mystery with interesting characters, then STARVATION LAKE is a book for you, too.

I am glad that the second installment of the series, THE HANGING TREE, is on my desk.

Bobby Orr was skating in the late 60’s and early 70’s when knee injuries ended careers far too early.  He has made his home and raised his family in the Boston area.  There has never been one bad word said, or written, about him in all these years.  He was a gentleman on the ice and he has been the ideal role model for aspiring hockey players for close to forty years.

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1 Response to STARVATION LAKE – Bryan Gruley

  1. Pingback: AUTHORS E – H (A Long List) | MURDER by TYPE

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