Monday, August 02, 2010

"The Hanging Tree" Ropes Readers In Suspensful Mystery

My claim in a movie review formerly featured on another website of how recent genres of fiction has treated the game of hockey, I held out the hope that someday someone would find the perfected formula to meld hockey and fiction. What it took was a new author Mr. Bryan Gruley to spotlight our sport in the way it was meant. As I re stacked my fantasy demon hunter paperbacks on the nightstand aside my bed, I became eager to delve into a more familiar world of journalism, hockey, and profound mystery.

Despite not having read the introductory novel, Starvation Lake, I wasn't to overly concerned that I was missing the crucial development of the series. Mr. Gruley's second book, The Hanging Tree takes off and hits the ground running re-introducing the main character in a passionate love affair, literally, from the opening pages. An ex-teammate's estranged wife gets the main character, Gus Carpenter, dangerously close to a real life game misconduct penalty, but still manages to toe the blue line with him helping the investigation of a woman whom they both grew up with.

Even through the eyes of the main character, Gus Carpenter, the real sympathy lies within the victim Grace McBride. Mr. Gruley was able to create a character through back story so deep that I actually felt like I was mourning her loss. As the plot develops, so does Gracie's mythology comparable to the now famous "Laura Palmer" of the Twin Peaks TV series. Most detective mysteries that I have read, the victim is usually someone expendable. But not Grace. Mr. Gruley successfully stirs the readers emotions believing that Grace McBride, the once-long lost sheep, didn't deserve the way she died. Justice for her was going to come from Gus and the family she left who loved her.

The next thing that I loved about this book is the steady pacing. Mr. Gruley most under-noticed talent is his descriptive pacing that makes readers feel that the town itself, "Starvation Lake", is an important character. The reader is locked in to the small Great Lakes town world where the air is cold and heavy in winter, but the gossip news travels like mercury. It's a town in the middle of a transition from being the accustomed neighborhood to the remote getaway destination of the well-to-do. But just as the native residents grumble at the influx of new money, they debate among themselves on the need for a fancy new hockey arena or stay loyal to the familiar old barn that housed many junior state hockey championships.

As far as the hockey action goes, Mr. Gruley masterfully worked in the hockey action as it was intrinsic to the plot. I like the reality shown within the story that not every player who laces up get to move on to the pro ranks. The town's arena is the perfect metaphor for the boulevard of broken dreams.

I would recommend this book to all my readers here when it goes on sale in bookstores August 3rd. It was meant to be enjoyed by hockey enthusiasts, journalist writers, and everybody else who had to return home and start over again.

[Note: I would also like to thank Ms. Dana Kaye of Kaye Publicity. Without her yeoman efforts, this review would not have been possible.] - "The Hanging Tree"
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