Tilt-a-Whirl (Audiobook) by Chris Grabenstein, Jeff Woodman

Tilt-a-Whirl (Audiobook)Tilt-a-Whirl

by Chris Grabenstein, Jeff Woodman (Narrator)
Series: John Ceepak Mystery, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 18 min.
Audible Studios, 2007

Read: July 18 – 20, 2007


Danny Boyle grew up in Sea Haven, NJ — a tourist trap of a town on the Jersey Shore. He likes the life — hanging out with the friends he’s had since high school, goofing around, eating and drinking more than he should. He’s got a nice Summer gig — working as a Part-Time police officer. The downside is his partner — John Ceepak, an Iraq War vet and former MP. He’s so by the book, he might as well have written it. The Sea Haven chief served with Ceepak and offered him a job when he was done with the Army. After an incident (IED-related), Ceepak can’t drive anymore — which is where Danny comes in.

It’s not an ideal working relationship, but Danny can put up with Ceepak’s eccentricities well enough. Until one day their pre-shift breakfast is interrupted by a girl covered in blood, standing in the middle of the street screaming. Ceepak jumps into action, and Danny tries to keep up. The girl takes them to the local amusement park, to the Tilt-a-Whirl ride, where her father lies shot dead. They’d snuck in before the place opened and had been held up by some junkie hiding near the ride. Or so she reports later. Her father owns half the real-estate in NY and NJ (or so it seems), sort of a would-be Trump, so his murder is big, big news.

Ceepak and Danny have to deal with media attention, annoying lawyers, gang members possibly trying to go straight, local politics, a Crime Scene Investigator that’s more of a hindrance than a help, and Danny’s inexperience if they’re going to solve this murder and let Sea Haven get back to what it does best in the summer — taking in every tourist dollar that it can.

The book is told with a light touch — Danny’s a smart-aleck and is (truthfully) too immature for his job; which is bad for the populace of Sea Haven, good for the reader/listener. But the lightness never gets in the way of the seriousness of the initial murder, and the crimes that follow.

Woodman is exactly the narrator that this book needed — he’s able to sound the right age for Danny, the right attitude, everything (apparently, he does a lot of YA Audiobook work, that makes sense to me). Until I heard Woodman, I hadn’t thought what a challenge it might be to get just the right narrator for this. Thankfully, I noted that with a strong sense of relief, because man…he was so good.

The Ceepak books were one of those series I fully enjoyed, and had forgotten how much I had liked them since I (apparently) finished the series. This audiobook helped me remember how much I missed reading them. If you haven’t gotten around to them, you should — either as an audiobook or text — Ceepak and Boyle are some of the most entertaining police officers around.

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3.5 Stars

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Review Catch Up: Rolling Thunder; Fun House; Free Fall by Chris Grabenstein

It infuriates me that I haven’t written anything on these books — Ceepak and Boyle (and, probably, Grabenstein) deserve better. But…here’s something, at least.

The points I’ve had all along are still here — I like Grabenstein’s voice and tone. I like the subtle character growth. Ceepak is a super-hero. Danny, on the other hand, is the real star of this series (no matter what it’s called) — we’re watching him grow in to a real cop, into a man. Yes, he’s trying to model himself off Ceepak, but he’s the focus, he’s our entry into this world and Ceepak’s mission.

The biggest problem with this series is that I just can’t bring myself to listen to enough Bruce Springsteen to appreciate all the references. I’ve tried. Really I have.

Rolling ThunderRolling Thunder

by Chris Grabenstein
Series:John Ceepak Mystery, #6

Hardcover, 304 pg.
Pegasus, 2010
Read: November 24 – 25, 2014


Not much worse than a prominent citizen dying on the initial run of the new Roller Coaster that was supposed to guarantee one of the best tourist seasons in recent years for Sea Haven. The resulting investigation is as filled with the typical twists and turns, heroics from Ceepak and good tries from Danny.

Not that Danny doesn’t get his chance to shine — and brightly, I should add.

I liked this one, not as much as I wanted to, but spending time with good friends in NJ is always a treat.

I’ll take a moment to say that I’m not crazy about the whole arc about Ceepak’s father. Initially, I liked it — but now? I don’t know — maybe they’re just spending too much time with it without resolving anything, but I’m done with it. There’s another arc kicked off here that works much better (particularly as it’s a subtle kick-off here, that grows into prominence).
3.5 Stars

Fun HouseFun House

by Chris Grabenstein
Series:John Ceepak Mystery, #7

Hardcover, 336 pg.
Pegasus, 2012
Read: February 25, 2015


A competitive version of The Jersey Shore comes to Sea Haven, and with it comes chaos, attention, and gobs of money. Oh, and because this is Sea Haven — murder.

We’re treated to a nice bit of social satire/cultural commentary along with our usual Ceepak/Boyle antics. Sure, it’s at the admittedly easy targets of The Jersey Shore/”Reality TV” in general. Still, it was fun, like this little bit about the host of just before a commercial break:

…teases Chip, because they like to do that a lot on these shows: hint that something good is coming. In fact, they do more hinting and teasing than actual entertaining.

I’ve had the same thought (not as well-articulated) more than once and appreciated someone else saying the same thing.

I also liked that the book starts with drunk and disorderly charge and then an investigation into anabolic steroids. Not every book (especially those set in small towns) has to be about murder or serial killers, right?

Overall, one of the weaker entries — but the TV commentary and Danny’s personal story made up for it.
0 Stars

Free FallFree Fall

by Chris Grabenstein
Series:John Ceepak Mystery, #8

Hardcover, 352 pg.
Pegasus, 2013
Read: March 11 – 12, 2015


Sure, there are draw backs to having a mystery series in a smaller town – at some point the crime rate gets ridiculously high, for example. On the other hand, when at least one of your characters has known half of the victims/suspects/witnesses all their lives, you can save a lot of time getting to know them finding narrative hooks, emotional ties, etc. That helps a lot here.

There’s something to this murder — this victim that doesn’t seem like the typical Ceepak/Boyle case. Same with the motive, really. I really liked the characters, the murder, the way this pushed our protagonists in different ways. If this wasn’t the best mystery — the best book in the series, it’s the best in a long time. Hope it’s a sign of things to come.
4 Stars

Dusted Off: Mad Mouse by Chris Grabenstein

Mad Mouse (John Ceepak Mystery, #2)Mad Mouse

by Chris Grabenstein

Hardcover, 320 pg.
Carroll & Graf, 2006
Read: November 27 – 28, 2012

Man, this is just such a fun series. Ceepak’s a great superhero cop (though I hope he becomes a bit more rounded in the books to come), and Danny’s one of the best sidekicks around. Watching him grow up is a blast.

I thought it was great that this book didn’t focus on a murder (my wife took a different stance), a serious crime, yes, but not a murder. The sense of urgency was still real, it was a serious crime, but a crime more likely that a small town would face–rather than a Jessica Fletcher-like situation where 3 centuries worth of murders happen to a tiny city in a matter of months.

—–

4 Stars

Mind Scrambler by Chris Grabenstein

sorry it’s been quiet here this week — sometimes that job thing requires more of me than usual, so reading (gasp!) and writing have to take a back seat.

Mind Scrambler (John Ceepak Mystery, #5)Mind Scrambler

by Chris Grabenstein

Hardcover, 352 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2009
Read: June 14, 2014

So, Ceepak and Danny find themselves in Atlantic City. Not for fun, of course, Ceepak wouldn’t go to a place like Atlantic City for vacation. They’re in town to help out a District Attorney in another state (spoiler territory for the previous book) by taking a deposition. Sure, they pass through a casino — where else can they stay in town? Before they can do anything, Danny runs into an old flame, Katie — who we last saw recuperating from an attempted murder — and Ceepak and Danny have stopped some slot machine players from being robbed. Katie’s dropped out of grad school and is working as a tutor/nanny for a couple of children whose parents make up a pretty popular (and family-friendly) magic act. Something’s bothering her, and she’d like to consult with Danny about something she’s found later that evening.

But, naturally, before the two of them can meet, Katie’s killed. I should say, that’s not a spoiler, Danny tells us this will happen on page 1 — and roughly 35 more times before it actually happens (well, okay, maybe only six times, I wasn’t counting). The tease at the end of the first chapter about her upcoming demise would’ve been far more effective if the chapter hadn’t started with a different one. Or having it repeated several times in the next few chapters. It’s a minor thing, but it began to lose its effect on me, and the tease at the end of chapter 1 was the most effective, and would’ve been moreso if that was the only one, I think.

Thanks to Ceepak’s connections, the two are allowed to assist in the investigation, and the two throw themselves into the investigation with a vengeance. I’m pretty sure this case is resolved far faster than is usual for the duo — Danny’s driven by guilt and by grief (he’d known Katie since childhood), Ceepak’s driven by whatever normally drives him, and wanting to help Danny (and probably to get home without incurring more charges to be billed to the DA).

Two things that kept me from enjoying this one as much as the others. The setting: on the one hand, I don’t think Grabenstein took full advantage of Atlantic City, but that’s partially due to the pace. But this is the second book in a row where Sea Haven hasn’t played too much of a factor, and it works against the series. Then again — good for the Sea Haven Tourism Board that the city has had a reprieve in murders.

Worse than that was how dense both Ceepak and Danny seemed to be this time — I spent a lot more time talking back to this book, not something I normally find myself doing with these two. The book starts with our victim wanting to talk to her old friend who’s a cop about something she found. So naturally, that’s where the investigation should’ve started — what did she want to talk about? But no, Danny really only thinks about it after they stumble onto it while pursuing another line of investigation. Our heroes also spend too much time following red herrings rather than seeing them for what they are. I expect more from these two.

At the end of the day, not my favorite in this series. But it was good enough to justify the time — Grabenstein’s style was as pleasant and engaging as always. The rapport between these characters was as good as ever, and I enjoyed seeing the person responsible for what happened to Katie get what they deserved, I liked her. Most of all though, the seed that got planted for upcoming books was tantalizing enough to keep me from spending too much time dwelling on what didn’t really work here.

—–

3 Stars

Hell Hole by Chris Grabenstein

Hell Hole (John Ceepak Mystery, #4)Hell Hole

by Chris Grabenstein
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published July 22nd 2008 by Minotaur Books
Read: Feb. 9, 2014

The fourth Ceepak/Boyle Mystery was a pleasant change of pace, while keeping the essence of the series intact. When he’s not patrolling with Ceepak, Danny Boyle is mentoring a spunky new part-time summer officer, Samantha Starky. The two respond to a noise complaint — a group of soldiers between Iraq deployments, celebrating a bit too loudly. While Boyle and Starky are convincing them to quiet down, their Sergeant gets a call, he needs to go identify a body in a nearby town — apparently one of the team has committed suicide. Danny’s not going to let anyone this drunk drive, so they take him to the scene. Here’s where things get going.

First, the sloppy CSI from Ceepak and Boyle’s first major case is on the scene; and there’s something about what he’s seeing that doesn’t set right with Danny. This being the 21st century, he uses his phone to snap a few pictures so he can think about it. When that doesn’t do the trick, he shows the pictures to Ceepak — who not only shares Danny’s sentiment, he can point to what was wrong in the pictures. No longer a suicide, yet out of their jurisdiction, the two have to get creative to find a way to solve this murder (while never wavering from Ceepak’s rigid code of honor and honesty).

Naturally, things aren’t that easy — there are distractions, celebrities, a US Sentator/Presumptive GOP Presidential candidate, local thieves — and some major drama on the personal front for Ceepak. There’s more to Sea Haven’s best cop than his Boy Scout attitude, his military past and devotion to Law & Order, and we get a healthy helping of that now.

Yes, yes, yes there are a few thing in retrospect that bother me: our heroes don’t have as many roadblocks to investigating a crime outside their jurisdiction that the should, and the external assistance that came along at the end was just a leeeetle too easy. But in the moment, Grabenstein sold it. And that’s what counts.

Hell Hole does feature one of the scariest sentences I’ve ever read: “They make an awesome tofustrami sandwich.” Seriously? Tofustrami is a thing?

As fun add these boss are, we see real evil on them. We see a deep kind of evil here — and the seeds are planted for a truly dark next adventure. Hell Hole has your standard Grabenstein balance of comedy and drama, serious and light, heart and suspense. Things strike closer to home than usual for our characters this time, and that just makes everything better.

—–

4 Stars

Whack A Mole by Chris Grabenstein

Whack A Mole
Whack A Mole

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.

—–

3.5 Stars