Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book Review: Whack a Mole by Chris Grabenstein (John Ceepak #3)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Developing characters, fun setting
Cons: Plot is slow in the first half
The Bottom Line:
Once things get started
Another can't put down book
Set aside some time

Slow Start, Gripping Second Half

This series is a contradiction in some ways. It's a thriller, yet it is set in a resort town, so it feels warm, inviting, and carefree. On one page, they might be talking about the sand castle contest taking place this week, and on the next, they're finding another body. While I don't normally enjoy thrillers, I love the resort town setting. Even with all the suspense, it still feels like a vacation to me.

Our guides through Whack A Mole, the third in the series, are John Ceepak and Danny Boyle. Ceepak is an Iraqi vet who lives by a strict moral code. He entered civilian life only partially since he works for the police department of Sea Haven, New Jersey. His partner Danny is a new cop on the force. Eager to learn and loving his new job, he still loves to goof off and have a good time.

Believe it or not, Ceepak has a hobby. Of course, using a metal detector to find things buried on the beach definitely fits in with his personality. After all, this guy loves the CSI shows. I mean the documentary ones, not the fiction ones on CBS. His most recent discovery is a class ring given by a man to his girlfriend before she vanished. No one knows what happened to this young woman, and naturally it peaks Ceepak's curiosity.

Danny is content to let Ceepak pursue this on his own time. They've landed the cushy job of guarding the sand castle contest, which basically means sitting in the sand all day.

But this dream assignment vanishes with a gruesome discovery. Ceepak feels it ties into the ring and the missing woman. It soon looks like there is a long dormant serial killer on the island. After all this time, is he set to strike again? Why now? And can Ceepak and Danny stop him before he claims his next victim?

This book started off rather slowly with several plot points telegraphed well in advance. I got a little bored in the first half waiting for the characters to catch up to what I knew would happen. But once they did, the book took off and held my interest until the climax.

The characters of Ceepak and Danny continue to be well developed. Ceepak, already established in the series as a no nonsense man, shows his softer side here, thanks mainly to the addition of his girlfriend, a character introduced in the last book. Danny, meanwhile, has come a long way between books. While still not on Ceepak's level, he's learned a lot about his new profession and continues at add to the investigation. I enjoyed that character development. These are characters that are growing and not staying stagnant.

Probably the most interesting thing about the series continues to be the writing style. Danny narrates the story to us in the present tense. I'm not sure why this method was chosen, but once I get used to it again, it works fine.

Even with the slower first half, this series continues to entertain. Whack A Mole is the perfect summer read for thriller fans.

And to fully appreciate the character growth, you'll want to read the John Ceepak Mysteries in order.

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