Sunday, August 3, 2014

TILT-A-WHIRL, first of Ceepak and Boyle's Jersey Shore mysteries


TILT-A-WHIRL (John Ceepak Mystery #1)
CHRIS GRABENSTEIN

Kindle edition
99¢, available now

Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: There isn't much sun in the fun when a billionaire real estate tycoon is found murdered on the Tilt-A-Whirl at a seedy seaside amusement park in the otherwise quiet summer tourist town of Sea Haven. John Ceepak, a former MP just back from Iraq, has just joined the Sea Haven police department. The job offer came from an old army buddy who hoped to give Ceepak at least a summer's worth of rest and relaxation to help him forget the horrors of war. Instead, Ceepak will head up the murder investigation.

He is partnered with Danny Boyle, a 24-year-old part-time summer cop who doesn't carry a gun and only works with the police by day so he has enough pocket money left over to play with his beach buddies at night. In the first novel in a new series written in the spirit of Carl Hiaasen's work, the Tilt-A-Whirl murder pushes Ceepak's deep sense of honor and integrity to the limits, as unexpected twists and turns keep the truth spinning wildly in every direction.

My Review: A first-person narrative by the brilliant, damaged sleuth's awestruck sidekick. A murder richly deserved, a plot cleverly sewn to established behaviors of irreproachable characters, and a very dark and twisted resolution that provides restitution for many past wrongs, all for the price of an insalata caprese on a baguette, with taro chips.

I started reading the Kindle edition this afternoon, nursing a sore back and a bad mood. I stopped a few minutes ago, drew a deep breath, and said, "golly gee willikers, that was a corking experience!" (Ceepak rubbed off on me a little. It's only temporary. I hope.)

I was rather constantly reminded that Ceepak was modeled on Sherlock Holmes, in fact a wee bit heavy-handedly (the cigarette butt, the musical obsession, the lighthouse), but honestly it never made the story less enveloping. The town and the townie-sidekick made me appreciate Ceepak's character's Sherlockian traits. The more Danny, out narrator, talks, the more Ceepak learns and, importantly, teaches. The specific information Ceepak seeks about the locations of stuff around the little resort town is less important than is the lesson that Danny is being offered at every step. It's so well-done that I suspect readers can whip right past that piece of subtext and lose no speck of pleasure in following Ceepak around as he pulls threads and worrys knots and always, always obeys his orders. Even when they come from people who have no idea what they're doing.

The crime scene team at the scene of the murder is led by a revolting slob instead of a brilliant, world-renowned forensic scientist, who happens to be away on vacation when this crime is committed...the murder of a billionaire. Hard luck! It's so awful how things don't happen the right way, although the sloppy lead forensic guy probably gets a come-uppance offstage. Which kinda sucks, I'd really have enjoyed seeing him suffer...though I have some hopes he'll reappear to be a thorn in the side of our Dudley Dooright detective, this shell-shocked love child of Sherlock and Adrian Monk.

I'm all ready to be a big fan. I'm hoping I'll be as happy after I read the next one. Because I read this on the !*&$^^!%%#% Kindle, I can't quote the nice, dry asides and observations that Danny, our Watson-meets-Archie Goodwin, makes, but I smiled a lot, chuckle a good bit, and laughed out loud at least three times.

Yeah, four stars. That's fair. The extra fractions of a star get deducted for a few small breaks, like an attitude shift on Danny's part that goes from up to down to up again a bit too quickly; the resolution of the original red herring being a smidge on the done-and-dusted side; and a bit at the end with Ceepak doing something I found, well, forced and unnecessary.

None of which should even slow you down in your sprint to the Kindle store to spend a *whopping* ninety-nine cents to procure your lease on access to the file. Five hours happily spent making a new bestie? For a lousy buck? Be a devil, risk it!

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