Starvation Lake: A Mystery

By Bryan Gruley
Publisher:Touchstone, (3/3/2009)

Average Rating:
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3.60 out of 5 (5 Clubie's ratings)

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In the dead of a Michigan winter, pieces of a snowmobile wash up near the crumbling, small town of Starvation Lake -- the same snowmobile that went down with Starvation's legendary hockey coach years earlier. But everybody knows Coach Blackburn's accident happened five miles away on a different lake. As rumors buzz about mysterious underground tunnels, the evidence from the snowmobile says one thing: murder.

Gus Carpenter, editor of the local newspaper, has recently returned to Starvation after a failed attempt to make it big at the Detroit Times. In his youth, Gus was the goalie who let a state championship get away, crushing Coach's dreams and earning the town's enmity. Now he's investigating the murder of his former coach. But even more unsettling to Gus are the holes in the town's past and the gnawing suspicion that those holes may conceal some dark and disturbing secrets secrets that some of the people closest to him may have killed to keep.

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CarolK's thoughts on "Starvation Lake: A Mystery"
updated on:3/11/2010

I enjoyed the characterizations of the small town people since we had traveled through that area recently. The many mysteries kept my interest and made it a quick but compelling read.

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Unscribbler's thoughts on "Starvation Lake: A Mystery"
updated on:12/7/2009

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Sam's thoughts on "Starvation Lake: A Mystery"
updated on:3/31/2009

I got to say this book is really paradoxical for me. Part of the time it felt predictable, then it had a good twist. Part of the time it felt too slow in getting any where, yet that felt completely appropriate at the same time with the setting. If I don't try to think about it so much - I liked it a lot. It was a fun read and at times I did not want to put it down. Great well developed characters, backstories and side stories! You were really able to get into the setting. And you just can not have a book about Michigan with out the characters having a pastie at some point! Nice local foodie referrence. And Gus is correct, as a rule, pasties generally do need ketchup. However, when you start to get a little more creative with them, the right marinade can do wonders!

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Nick's thoughts on "Starvation Lake: A Mystery"
updated on:3/31/2009

Well done! Having grown up in a small town in the midwest, Cruley really captures the ways, attitudes and intertwined lives in small town, USA. There can be so many unspoken things going on that half the town knows about and yet never talks about that it is crazy! Gus being an "insider" yet clueless was perfectly executed. It lent itself well to some great discoveries of the present and past. The story line could have almost been anything, as it was just so entertaining to watch the characters interact. Though the story was extremely well developed also. Gus is just a great relatable character overall. I'll look forward to his next adventure.

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Ceci's thoughts on "Starvation Lake: A Mystery"
updated on:3/31/2009

This was a great read. Smooth and easy prose, which I definitely appreciate! It’s a mystery with an emphasis on character and setting that you don’t always find in that genre – and not just a mystery, but a multi-mystery. It has your standard whodunit twists and turns (to the nth degree!), but it is also a “what did he do?” and “how is he ever going to get out of that?” because in addition to the unfolding murder mystery, the narrator, Gus Carpenter, has his own secrets to reveal about how far he went to win a Pulitzer prize and what brought him back to Starvation Lake when he worked so hard to get out of there in the first place. My favorite thing about the book was the devoted attention given to developing the characters, not just the main characters, but the entire small-town cast. Interesting and unexpected details are provided about everyone (some important to the plot, some not) – Gus’s mom’s fast talking, Joanie’s dislike of swearing, Coach’s refusal to step out on the ice with his right foot – and no one’s life history goes untold. It’s just as I imagine life would be in a small town. Everyone knows everything. The oppressiveness that comes along with this is obvious, and we see its affect on Gus. But ultimately it’s many of these same characters who help Gus see the truth that he’d been “walking around in the middle of” for years and help him put his own past in perspective.


"Starvation Lake: A Mystery"
By Bryan Gruley

Average Rating:
Unleash it
3.60 out of 5 (5 Clubie's ratings)

The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
1. Some of the residents of Starvation Lake seem to think that opening the Blackburn investigation is only stirring up the mud, and would prefer to keep the past in the past. “Why bother? Nobody here wants to know the truth anyway” (361). Should the town be made aware of the truth, or do you think that the investigation opens old wounds unnecessarily?

2. Starvation Lake is a hockey town. How has the sport, and his failure to save a championship-winning shot in particular, informed the way Gus has lived his life?

3. In Starvation Lake, the newspaper, television station, lawyers and police force often compete with one another to piece together clues and uncover evidence. Do you think that this is an accurate portrayal of how the media and law enforcement interact with one another in the real world? 

4. As a coach, Jack Blackburn emphasized “the ultimate goal” of winning the state championship, and even told his players that “losing is good for winning” (59). Discuss this coaching technique. Do you agree or disagree with this approach? Does his coaching style provide any insight towards his crimes?

5. To what do you attribute Gus’s naiveté regarding the felonies going on “right under his nose” during his youth? Do you think the guilt he feels for being unaware is warranted?

6. Blackburn attributes the “demand” for his willingness to “supply,” and states, “Because people are going to get it anyway, one way or another” (425). Given his rationale, does Blackburn’s refusal to accept responsibility have any validity? Who do you think has committed the greater crime – the person who provides the illegal material, or the person who consumes it?

7. How did the discovery that Jeff Champagne has followed in Coach Blackburn’s footsteps affect your understanding of Blackburn’s crimes? (440)

8. Discuss Gus’s relationship with his father. How does the realization that his father was involved in Blackburn’s scheme affect Gus’s memories? Do you think that there may be more to discover regarding Gus’s father in the upcoming books in the series?

9. By the end of the novel, has Gus’s failed save in overtime at the state championship game ceased to haunt him? Has Starvation Lakefinally been given something else to talk about?

10. “Many of the rules of journalism are dressed in shades of gray” (187). By the end of the novel do you consider Gus to be a moral journalist? Which of his career decisions have helped you come to this conclusion? Beyond his experiences as a young man on a newspaper staff, what do you think motivated Gus to become a reporter?

11. What do you think the future holds for each character? Gus? Darlene? Joanie?

Enhance Your Book Club

Starvation Lake is a real place! Read about the legend that lent the town its name:

Perlmutter is the local Sasquatch expert of Starvation Lake but there are tons of supposed Big Foot sighting in Michigan State:

Learn the ins and outs of ice hockey goaltending here:

Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions

A pastie is a kind of pastry that is filled with diced beef, sliced potato and onion, and baked. Very typical of Michigan & UP (Upper Michigan). Like the pastie, what regional food items did they have where you grew up?

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Gruley's outstanding debut effortlessly incorporates his inside knowledge of both the newspaper business and his hockey avocation into a tale of violence and betrayal that will remind many of Dennis Lehane. After crossing an ethical line while writing an investigative series for the Detroit Times, reporter Gus Carpenter has returned to his hometown of Starvation Lake, Mich., to work for the local paper, whose stories mostly reflect the pedestrian and placid nature of smalltown life. That changes when evidence surfaces that the town's legendary hockey coach, Jack Blackburn, who disappeared after an apparent snowmobile accident a decade earlier, was actually murdered. Carpenter's reopening of the case, which has personal resonance for him (he'd been the goalie for the amateur boys' team Blackburn coached), shakes all sorts of skeletons loose. Gruley, the Wall Street Journal's Chicago bureau chief, has a gift for making all his characters, from the leads to the bit players, realistic. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist
*Starred Review* Gus Carpenter’s big-city journalistic career has gone down in flames, and he returns to Starvation Lake, a faded resort town at the northern end of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. There, he faces another ignominy: everyone in town remembers that he is the goalie who gave up the winning goal in the state ice-hockey championship more than a decade before, and many relate the town’s economic slide to that loss. Soon after his return, evidence that might explain the mysterious snowmobiling death of Gus’ coach is found, and as de facto editor of the local paper, Gus must pursue the truth—but the cost of redemption is high, for everyone. Starvation Lake is a wonderfully polished and assured first novel. Gruley’s portrayal of a struggling small town in a harsh environment rings with authenticity. His characters are believable small-town archetypes; some are self-aware, some are in denial, others are oblivious. The plot is convoluted, but Gruley maintains the suspense very effectively. Ice-hockey scenes not only advance the plot but also offer insights into the sport’s culture and its importance to small, very cold towns. Many good crime novels appear every month, but few have the depth and poignancy of Starvation Lake, which deserves comparison with Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River. --Thomas Gaughan

"[A] smashing debut thriller. Gruley...knows how to drag you kicking and screaming into a story so gripping that you'll probably devour it in one gulp."-- Chicago Tribune

"His characters are genuinely flawed and, Carpenter especially, honestly likable. Gruley's gripping plot unfolds like a piece of investigative journalism..."-- Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Gruley deftly juggles several intricately related plots, and conveys the beauty and picturesque shabbiness of a northern Michigan town."-- The Detroit News

"Gruley's outstanding debut effortlessly incorporates his inside knowledge...into a tale of violence and betrayal that will remind many of Dennis Lehane."-- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Many good crime novels appear every month, but few have the depth and poignancy of Starvation Lake, which deserves comparison with Dennis Lehane's Mystic River."-- Booklist (starred review)

"A terrific first novel about what it means to be a journalist. Full of insider knowledge about hockey and great local color, this is not to be missed."-- Library Journal (starred review)

"A great debut from a major talent."-- New York Times bestselling author, Harlan Coben

"Bryan Gruley's Starvation Lake introduces a welcome, human voice to crime fiction readers."-- George Pelecanos

"Starvation Lake is a wonderful surprise! It is one of those books that won't shake its grip. Bryan Gruley is off to a phenomenal start!"-- Michael Connelly

"A terrific debut by a talented author to watch...Starvation Lake is a smorgasbord of colorful local characters, a great sense of place, hockey, PBR, small-town newspapers...but most of all...a little town with big secrets. Authentic and thought-provoking."-- C.J. Box, author of Three Weeks to Say Goodbye and Below Zero

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Bryan Gruley is the Chicago bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal. An award winning journalist, Gruley shared in the Pulitzer Prize given to the Wall Street Journal in 2002 for coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks. A graduate of Notre Dame, Gruley was raised in Michigan and spent the beginnings of his journalism career working at newspapers in Kalamazoo and Detroit. An avid hockey player and amateur musician, he currently lives with his family in Chicago.

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