Saturday, May 31, 2008

Tilt-a-Whirl by Chris Grabenstein

First the ALA capsule:
From page 1, this debut stands out as refreshingly different. Billed as the first entry in Grabenstein's Jersey Shore series, the story is set in Sea Haven, a town that will stir memories for East Coasters who went "down the Shore" each summer. The story centers on the murder of real-estate tycoon Reggie Hart, who was shot in front of his teenage daughter, Ashley. Danny Boyle, a 24-year-old "summer cop," encounters the hysterical girl while on patrol with his partner, John Ceepak, an ex-soldier who has returned from Iraq with some demons left to exorcise. Although Grabenstein crafts a first-rate mystery, what makes this novel special is its two protagonists. With young Boyle narrating, the reader gets to know Ceepak gradually, through his partner's eyes. At first Ceepak's personal code of honor only amuses or annoys the cynical Boyle. But as he (and we) get to know the former soldier, the portrait of a true hero emerges. Grabenstein brilliantly evokes the endearing seediness of a Jersey Shore town in summer, but it's his development of the Ceepak-Boyle relationship that makes this an absolute triumph. Jenny McLarin
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Well alright, I was not as bowled over, but it is a first novel (2005) & first in a series now up to 3 episodes with a 4th out in August. The two cops aren't fully dimensional & the plot turns extremely distasteful. But Grabenstein has put down a strong foundation, & he has a good sense of humor, if not the lunatic streak of Carl Hiassen or Tim Dorsey.

The location is a thinly disguised Long Beach Island NJ, & I didn't get the impression Grabenstein really knew the place intimately. Danny Boyle is supposed to know it, he's the local guy, & the narrator, he doesn't provide much insight into the local culture, & he's not that interesting yet. At age 24, Boyle isn't likely to be much of a Springsteen fan either, but he knows all the lyrics, the only thing he has in common with Ceepak. So Grabenstein doesn't dig into the most potentially volatile faultlines: The economic dislocation of LBI's year-round inhabitants, the people providing skilled trades & services, & who are now forced to live off island; & the annual influx of seasonal labor, many of whom are very sleazy characters, some of whom stay around offseason for the cheap rents (a more serious problem in larger boardwalk towns). But I suspect this series improves book-by-book if Grabenstein received some substantial advances & could afford to stay on LBI. In Tilt-a-Whirl, Grabenstein's view of the Jersey shore is that of a benny, the odd name locals still apply to summer vacationers. (I say this as a benny writer).

I read Hell for the Holidays, a 2007 novel & second in a series by Grabenstein featuring Jersey City FBI Agent Christopher Miller. It was stronger writing than Tilt-A-Whirl. Again, there were some unnecessary plot contrivances - nothing as silly as Robert B. Parker hands Spenser nowadays. Too many far-fetched coincidences. But the two ultra-right bad guys, a wealthy demogogue & cold-blooded Army-trained terrorist, are really evil, & in different ways as it turns out, although they're both sociopaths. Grabenstein now sketches out minor characters quickly & efficiently, & just as efficiently kills them off. I really liked an FBI mole named Tiny, & was sorry that he won't be showing up again.

Complaint: the print in the Ceepak series is so small & faint it gives me eyestrain.

Labels: ,

So Grabenstein sets his stories down the Jersey Shore like Janet Evanovich sets her Stephanie Plum mysteries in Trenton?

I wanna go to the shore today after reading your entry.
Post a Comment

<< Home
"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?