Friday, October 22, 2010

Book Review: "The Hanging Tree" by Bryan Gruley

For local reporter Gus Carpenter, the apparent suicide of Gracie McBride is more than just a news story that shakes up his sleepy hometown of Starvation Lake, MI. Gracie was Gus' second cousin, and while she had a wild past, and their relationship was fractious, she appeared to be on the verge of pulling her life together. But even many of those closest to Gracie think it could have been suicide, and Gus is dissuaded from pursuing the truth.

The Hanging Tree is Bryan Gruley's second mystery featuring Gus Carpenter, following last year's Starvation Lake. Gruley captures the desperation, anger and hurt of a small town on the verge of total collapse, as well as the frustrations Gus feels on a daily basis about his promising journalistic career in Detroit being derailed, forcing his return home. Couple that with the never-ending resentment of many Starvation Lake residents who still hold a grudge about Gus' letting the winning goal score in a state hockey tournament some 20+ years earlier, and you can understand it's not easy being home.

Gruley is a great writer and I definitely enjoyed the twists and turns this story took. I really like Gus' character and many of the supporting characters who have appeared in both books; I can visualize many of them in my mind's eye. I was a little frustrated with this book, however, for two reasons. First, I felt as if Gruley threw every possible plot device—the estranged husband, the boss who just doesn't understand, the townspeople angry over something that happened years ago, etc.—into the story, which detracted from my full commitment to it. And second, it always frustrates me when so much in a book (or in life, for that matter) could be solved if people would just talk to one another. But instead, we had people avoiding one another, not saying how they feel, not answering the phone, etc. That being said, however, these are more my pet peeves than actual flaws in the story, so I'd highly recommend both Starvation Lake books, and I eagerly await the next one in the series.

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