I concluded my review of Starvation Lake with speculation about the sequel, mentioning the fact that sequels sometime don’t live up to the standards set by their predecessors. That’s not the case here.
The Hanging Tree is set a year after the events in Starvation Lake. Gus Carpenter’s cousin Gracie McBride is found one night in a snowstorm hanging from a tree. There are no tracks, of course. Nor is there a ladder or any other means present by which Gracie could have reached the branch she from which hangs. And she’s missing a shoe. A shoe that’s nowhere to be found.
Of course, this leads Gus to suspect murder. So does Deputy Sheriff Darlene Esper, Gus’ girlfriend and Gracie’s best friend. Proving it, though, isn’t going to be easy. And before it’s over, most of the relationships Gus has with his friends, family, and employer will be put to the test.
I really liked the mystery in Starvation Lake. It was nice and layered, with a number of twists. The Hanging Tree is the same, only moreso. I figured out quite a bit of the mystery in Starvation Lake. This one kept me guessing more than its predecessor, and there was more than one surprise I didn’t see coming.
The characters are all human, with their flaws and faults as well as their acts of kindness and nobility. Mysteries. especially series mysteries, set in small towns tend to have characters that are more caricatures than people. Gruley never falls into that trap. I suspect one of the reasons he can write people so well is because he’s been a reporter for so many years, and a Pulitzer Prize winning one at that.
The Hanging Tree was a top notch mystery, with a depth of character, setting, and theme that you don’t always see. The next book in the series, The Skeleton Box, comes out next month. I’m looking forward to it.