Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Book Review: Mind Scrambler by Chris Grabenstein (John Ceepak #5)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Danny and Ceepak; good story
Cons: A bit darker than I was expecting
The Bottom Line:
Bit on the dark side
Especially for my light tastes
Still love characters

Ceepak Scrambles Against Mind Games to Learn the Truth

Every so often, I venture away from my cozy mystery comfort zone into the darker and more serious mysteries.  One such series I've really come to love is the John Ceepak series.  Mind Scrambler is the fifth book, and it is one of the darker entries.

The series is normally set in Sea Haven, a resort town on the Jersey Shore.  Our hero is John Ceepak, a retired military police officer and by the book cop.  His partner, and our narrator, is Danny Boyle, a mid-twenties rookie cop who is just starting to take his life seriously.

This book finds the duo in Atlantic City to take a deposition in a pending case.  They are only planning to be in town for one night before Danny runs into former girlfriend Katie Landry.  Katie is now working for magician Richard Rock, and his show is in town.  Katie manages to score them some nice tickets for that evening's performance.  Later, she calls Danny asking to meet him as soon as the show is over.  When he goes to meet her, he finds her brutally murdered.  As more and more things about her death don't add up, Danny feels more and more confused.  Can Ceepak sort through the lies to find the truth?

The series has always stood out to me because it is written in the present tense.  Danny is our narrator, and he reports on it as it happens.  This book takes a break for that, but only for the first 80 pages or so.  This allows the great use of foreshadowing to draw us into the story during the set up phase.  Once we catch up to Danny, he goes back to the present tense.  It's different, but the author is able to pull it off.

The mystery itself is quite well done.  I guessed a few of the plot points early on, but quite a few others took me by surprise.  They layers of lies are almost impenetrable at first, drawing me into the story.  As I mentioned, the solution is truly dark, even for this series.  It's taken a couple of days for me to come to grips with that, but the climax is also emotionally powerful if you know the characters.

I was a little disappointed when I realized we weren't going to be spending time in Sea Haven in this book.  I look forward to dropping in on that location.

Fortunately, we still get to spend time with Danny and Ceepak.  Their relationship is a real draw.  The glimpses are brief, but we do get to see Ceepak truly treat Danny as a friend a couple of times.  At the same time, Danny is maturing.  Neither of them is acting as they did in the first book, but their actions here are an outgrowth of the previous books in the series.

I had liked Katie when she showed up in the series before, and I liked her again here.  I was sorry to see her die.  We do get to see a couple supporting characters we've met before, and I loved seeing them again.  The rest of the cast are quite interesting and add a lot of the book.

Despite the darkness of the story, I have come to enjoy Mind Scrambler.  Go into it with the proper frame of mind, and you'll enjoy it, too.

Because this series has such great character growth, you'll want to read the John Ceepak Mysteries in order.

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