Starvation Lake has undergone some changes. Laird Haskell and his family have moved to Starvation Lake with the promise of building a new hockey rink. The Pine County Pilot is now part of a communications conglomerate. Gus Carpenter, its executive director, now has to worry about being scooped by his own team as the local television newscaster, part of the same conglomerate, seems to have the inside track to all the stories. The Pilot has a new "managing editor" whose main concern is advertising dollars and Gus has a new home - or rather a new old home. He's returned to live with his mother because his lease on the apartment above the Pilot was not renewed once the newspaper changed hands.
The biggest change, however, happens when Gus' childhood friend Gracie McBride hangs herself. Gus and Gracie haven't associated in years, but Gus' girlfriend and sheriff deputy, Darlene Esper, is still very close to Gracie. Darlene doesn't believe Gracie killed herself and she recruits Gus to help prove it. As Gus starts shaking up Gracie's past, more skeletons fall out of the closet than anyone expected.
The multi-award winning, Edgar-nominated STARVATION LAKE was Bryan Gruley's first book featuring Gus Carpenter. Gruley tops himself with THE HANGING TREE. This novel is deliciously dark, hauntingly poetic and heart-wrenchingly emotional.
Gruley sets the tone and scene with strong imagery:
"The silhouettes of the bare trees etched skeletons on the linen sky."
And he constructs richly tragic characters:
"A woman who'd been racing toward the gates of hell for most of her life had arrived a bit quicker than we'd all expected."
Of course the tragic hero is Gus Carpenter. In THE HANGING TREE Gus has stopped playing goalie for his night hockey league. This is symbolic for Gus as he explains,
"In the dressing room, in the hockey shop, in the tavern, the goalie is one of the boys. On the ice he is stranded, lost inside his bloated pads, hiding his face behind a mask. When he gives up a goal his teammates figure he should have stopped, he is alone, circling his crease, dousing himself from his water bottle, wishing he had another chance at the shot he was sure he had with the toe of his skate until it hit someone's elbow and deflected just inside the post."
Gus is ready to let go of that loneliness, but it seems the harder he tries, the more isolated he becomes.
As with STARVATION LAKE, Gruley writes a plot that examines the complexities of the small town through a magnifying glass. The town, its people, its politics none of them can hide their blemishes under the scrutiny. Gruley emphasizes that safety, security, happiness are certainly not guaranteed and just because you're outside the big city doesn't mean you've found Mayberry.
THE HANGING TREE is an exquisite sophomore novel from Bryan Gruley. As long as Gruley continues to write books the caliber of THE HANGING TREE, I will be a devoted fan.
THE HANGING TREE is available in trade paper (ISBN: 978-1-4165-6364-8) from Touchstone.