Friday, March 8, 2013

Book Review: Tilt-a-Whirl by Chris Grabenstein (John Ceepak #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Ceepak, Doyle, and the twists of the plot
Cons: One plot element not completely explained; foul language
The Bottom Line:
Look past the language
I love this unlikely pair
Even in debut

A Wild and Crazy Ride

Sea Haven, New Jersey, is just as wonderful as it sounds. Located on a small island just off the coast, it is a popular vacation destination with a huge summer population of tourists. In an attempt to help with the summer crowds, the local police hire a bunch of summer cops.

This summer, one of them is Danny Boyle. 24 years old, he's still trying to decide what he wants to be when he grows up. He's partnered with John Ceepak, a retired military policeman who has just gotten back from Iraq.

The partners are just starting their shift when a girl comes running down the street covered in blood. She says her dad was shot on the tilt-a-whirl in the local amusement park. Her father turns out to be billionaire Reginald Hart. Boyle is in over his head, but Ceepak is right in his element. With only the girl as witness, they begin to work hard to find the killer.

Things only get more complicated that night when the girl is kidnapped. The normal July crowds are dropping fast for fear of the maniac on the island. Ceepak takes the case personally and follows every lead to track down the missing girl. Will he be in time?

Every so often, I like to branch out of my cozy sub-genre and experiment with a little darker book. This was one such experimentation, and I enjoyed it. The plot in the first half is fairly straight forward, but the second half begins to take as many twists and turns as the title ride. I found myself working hard to keep up and loving every minute of it. There is one fairly major plot point that wasn't explained to my complete satisfaction, but the story still works.

Despite the fact that Doyle narrates the story, Ceepak is our main character. It's a classic Holmes/Watson relationship, which works to keep the audience in the dark and confused until the final pages. Ceepak is well developed with a background to explain his serious nature. Doyle is a bit more fun loving and provides some good comic relief with his narration and occasional spoken quip. Even so, he is able to provide a few puzzle pieces that ultimate help Ceepak solve the case. Doyle also grows more as a result of the story. He's not nearly as innocent at the end, but he's definitely stronger for it.

The most unique aspect of the story is the narration. It is written is present tense. I can't remember the last novel I read that was written this way. It took me several chapters to get used to this narrative style. I'm not sure why the author chose to go this route, but by the end of the novel I was used to it.

In keeping with the darker tone, there is also significantly more foul language then I am used to reading. It did bother me in some scenes, but its something else worth noting in passing.

Ultimate, I am glad I went on the wild ride that is Tilt-a-Whirl. I plan to take another vacation in Sea Haven really soon.

And you'll definitely want to read the John Ceepak Mysteries in order.

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