The Hanging Tree

A Starvation Lake Mystery

The Hanging Tree

WHEN GRACIE McBRIDE, the wild girl who had left town eighteen years earlier, is found dead in an apparent suicide shortly after her homecoming, it sends shock waves through her native Starvation Lake. Gus Carpenter, executive editor of the Pine County Pilot, sets out to solve the mystery with the help of his old flame and now girlfriend, Pine County sheriff deputy Darlene Esper. As Gus and Darlene investigate, they can’t help but question if Gracie’s troubled life really ended in suicide or if the suspicious crime-scene evidence adds up to murder.

But in such a small town it’s impossible to be an impartial investigator—Gracie was Gus’s second cousin; Darlene’s best friend; and the lover of Gus’s oldest pal, Soupy Campbell. Yet with all the bad blood between Gus and Gracie over the years, Gus is easily distracted by other problems. His employer is trying to push him out, the locals are annoyed that his stories have halted construction on a new hockey rink, and Darlene’s estranged husband has returned to reclaim his wife.

When Gus tries to retrace Gracie’s steps to discover what happened to her in the eighteen years she was away from Starvation Lake, he’s forced to return to Detroit, the scene of his humiliating past. And though he’s determined to find out what drove Gracie back home, Gus is unprepared for the terrible secrets he uncovers.

The second book in Bryan Gruley’s irresistible Starvation Lake series, The Hanging Tree is a compelling story about family and friendship, sex and violence, and the failure of love to make everything right.

  • Touchstone | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416563648 | 
  • August 2010
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Hanging Tree includes discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Bryan Gruley. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. 


For Discussion

1. The first line of the book is, “I have learned that you can be too grateful for love.” Do you think this statement refers to the relationship between Gus and Darlene, or is the author highlighting a larger theme? Think about the various relationships in the novel in light of this sentence. Does it change your perspective on them, or on the book as a whole?

2. Gus has proven himself to be a reporter of persistence and talent. Is Gus wasting that talent by staying in Starvation Lake? Do you think he is hiding in Starvation Lake, still ashamed of what he did at the Detroit Times? Or are his reasons for living there—his mother, Darlene, his history with the town—genuine? Do you think he aspires to work for a big paper again?

3. Many people in Starvation Lake are annoyed by Gus’s negative stories about the new hockey rink. Why does the new rink mean so much to the town? How do the prospective new rink and the existing old one function as symbols fo see more

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About the Author

Bryan Gruley
Photo Credit: Sigrid Estrada

Bryan Gruley

Bryan Gruley is reporter at large for Bloomberg News and the former Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal. He has won the Anthony, Barry, and Strand Awards and was nominated for an Edgar Award for best first novel. He lives with his wife in Chicago. Visit