Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Book Review: Hell Hole by Chris Grabenstein John Ceepak #4)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Characters, characters, characters
Cons: Plot could have been stronger
The Bottom Line:
Danny and Ceepak
Such wonderful characters
In a good story

Ceepak and the Tidy Suicide

When his former publisher folded, Chris Grabenstein quickly landed his John Ceepak mysteries at a new publisher. Hell Hole is the first to be published by St. Martin's but the fourth in the series. While the cover doesn't have that bright cotton candy look that caught your eye like the previous books had, the insides are the same. And that's what ultimate matters to the fans.

The series revolves around John Ceepak, former military police who has left the service and joined the police department of Sea Haven, New Jersey. The town is a tourist destination during the summer, complete with its own boardwalk and amusement rides. The series is narrated by Danny Boyle, a rookie cop who has been partnered with Ceepak. As Danny watches Ceepak solve some pretty hard cases, he tries to learn everything he can and help as he can.

Danny needs extra money (football season is coming and he wants an HD TV), so he's taken on extra shifts at the police department. On one such night shift, he answers a noise complaint just as the group of soldiers at the house learns that one of their own has died at a rest stop. Since none of them are in any shape to drive, Danny takes one to identify the body. The case is looking like suicide, but something at the scene doesn't feel right to Danny.

John Ceepak is quick to zero in on the anomaly the next morning; the blood spatter doesn't fit. Unfortunately, the death occurred outside of Sea Haven jurisdiction. But Ceepak is taking the case personally and is working all the angles to get involved. Can he find a way to investigate without breaking his code? Who would kill a war hero? And why?

Make no mistake about it, these police procedural/thrillers are a definite step away from my normal cozy mystery. The description of the crime scene is rather graphic, and some of the characters are rougher than I normally like. So why do I keep reading this series? Because of the characters. I have really grown to love them. Ceepak is a no nonsense man who appears hard and distant on the outside. Yet as the series has progressed, we've seen him soften. This is especially true in this book as we get to watch him interact with his new wife and step-son. Danny, on the other hand, has matured. He's still likely to crack a joke, especially in the narration, but he takes his responsibilities seriously. They are definitely an odd couple, but they work extremely well off each other. That's evidenced by the opening, which features Danny with a rookie partner for the first few chapters. I was so ready for the Ceepak/Danny dynamic that I almost cheered when he showed up.

Wow, I'm rambling on and on and Ceepak and Danny! The rest of the characters are just as realistic. True, some don't get enough page time to fully develop, but those who do are real. Several series regulars show up, and it is great to see them again. And that rookie cop I mentioned Danny being partnered with in the beginning? I'd kinda like to see her again in the next book, too.

The plot doesn't suffer one bit from the great characters. While the beginning was a tad slow, the story picked up quickly and kept me reading until the end. I must admit I had the big picture figured out early, but the details surprised me. Yet they were completely logical.

I've gotten so used to Danny's present tense narration I hardly notice it any more. Yet anything else from the series would feel wrong.

Hell Hole is another strong book in an enjoyable series. Sea Haven might not be as relaxing as its name implies, but I definitely will be back.

Since a big draw of the series is the character development, you'll definitely want to read the John Ceepak Mysteries in order.

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