by Chris Grabenstein
Hardcover, 320 pg.
Carroll & Graf, 2007
How does Sea Haven, NJ continue to have summer tourism? For three years straight, the peaceful, quaint tourist town has been shaken by murders — some pretty ghastly. Sure, they’ve got a police chief and a mayor dedicated to keeping the havoc and mayhem under wraps. That’s part of it. And perhaps people looking to spend a week or two along the beach in Jersey aren’t the most discriminating of people (suddenly, I’m thinking of a MTV series).
Another factor, of course, has to be how the Sea Haven police deal with these murderers. In particular, rookie officer Danny Boyle and his partner John Ceepak. Ceepak’s practically a modern-day paladin — honor-bound, noble, with a deep sense of justice, law and order, infinitely patient with his partner — who spends almost every off-duty hour trying to learn all he can about forensic and investigation methods. If not for Ceepak, Boyle’d probably be on track for a life of partying, waiting tables, and trying to stay entertained. But now he’s on-track to become a better-than-average cop.
This time out, Ceepak and Danny are on the track of a serial killer who was pretty busy in the late 1970s and 1980s, but took a decade or two off — but now he’s back on his holy crusade to rid the world — or at least Sea Haven — from promiscuous young women. Of course, last time he was active, Ceepak wasn’t anywhere near Sea Haven (or a police force), things are going to go differently for the killer this time.
Grabenstein’s style is what makes these work — the mysteries, the situations, the characters, the setting — they’d probably be okay. But Grabenstein makes them sparkle. These are occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but mostly these stories are just told with a dazzling wit, Danny’s voice is naive and worldy-wise at the same time — his devotion to his partner, along with his inapplicability of really understanding him, make me think of the Archie Goodwin/Nero Wolfe pairing. Ceepak’s too good to be true, but Danny’s incredibly believable, and as long as he believes in Ceepak, the reader does, too.
Good, solid entry in this series that I hope keeps going for a long time.