The Hanging Tree by Brian Gruley

Gruley’s follow up to his award winning debut, Starvation Lake, is another winner (and award nominee). We’re back in the small town of Starvation Lake, Michigan with amateur hockey player and professional reporter Gus Carpenter. The local hockey team, The River Rats, is still the most important thing in town and everyone’s excited about the new hockey rink proposed by a rich newcomer, Laird Haskell.

But Gus isn’t sold.  He smells a rat and has written critical newspaper articles not welcomed by the rest of town, most of whom see nothing but dollar signs when they look at Haskell. Then Gus’ cousin Gracie, who just returned to town after eighteen years, is found dead in a blizzard, an apparent suicide, dangling from the branches of a local landmark known as the Shoe Tree.   Gus’ refusal to accept her death as suicide and his determination to find out what happened to Gracie while she was gone, what made her come back, and how she ended up dead leads him to a town he hoped to never visit again, Detroit.  And it makes his relationship with his girlfriend, Pine County sheriff’s deputy Darlene Esper, even more complicated.

The writing is very much in the noir tradition, as evinced by sentences such as: “His mood tasted like all the sharp metal in the room, the angle-iron chairs, the star points on his badge, the shelf brackets, his pistol.” Fans of Dennis Lehane, Steve Hamilton, George Pelecanos, and Michael Connelly will find much to like in this series.  Highly recommended.

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