By Chris Grabenstein

Pegasus Crime, 2012 ($25.00)

ISBN-13: 978-1-60598-336-3

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Police officer John Cepak just wants to have some fun with his wife Rita, playing Skee-ball at Coin Castle on Sea Haven's Pier One. His fun night is ruined when two drunken reality show "stars" start acting up, vandalizing property and shouting obscenities. Cepak, who never lies, cheats or steals, can't stand by and allow such behavior, and he steps in. His actions and words are on captured on film, and he unwillingly becomes a media darling.

The show is called Fun House (think "Jersey Shore meets Big Brother meets Survivor"), and the producer is so pleased and impressed with Cepak and his partner Danny Boyle that he asks them to head the security detail for the stars. The mayor of Sea Haven, who has dollar signs in his eyes, urges them to accept. When the officers find out one of the cast is using steroids supplied by an old nemesis called Skeletor, they agree. They and several other law enforcement agencies have been trying to catch the guy for years. Cepak and Danny have not forgotten or forgiven Skeletor for a near-successful attempt to send them up in a raging inferno in his drug hideout (Hell Hole) An added incentive for Danny: he's been dating Layla Shapiro, the head honcho's assistant, and welcomes a chance to spend more time with her.

Danny ruminates that there's not much real about this reality show, but the death threats to the cast members are. He and Cepak are shocked that not only does the director plan to go on with the show after one of the cast members is murdered, but that he seems happy about it. Now they can have a "Funeral for a Friend" episode, not to mention a "To Catch a Killer" special. Danny doesn't like it much that Layla agrees with him.

Cepak's sharp edges have smoothed out some, probably thanks to Danny's light-heartedness and wife Rita's calming influence. He even attempts a joke or two, more or less successfully. Danny is also changing, not so quick to crack wise or jump into situations that are not in his best interest, like sleeping with Layla Shapiro. He has matured, reminiscing over his misspent days as a beach bum like they happened decades, not a few years, ago. He looks up to Cepak now, no longer seeing him as a cartoon character. And geez-o, man, what's up with those phone calls Cepak's getting from a police department in Ohio? Cepak doesn't lie to him about them, even though Danny wishes he would.

This is the seventh in Grabenstein's John Cepak Mystery series. The tone is more serious than previous books in the series, but there are still some fine humorous moments: the guys getting hazed by a motorcycle gang, trying to bring a halt to a food fight in a fine dining establishment, former goof-off extraordinaire Danny being shocked at the language and behavior of the cast members, and much, much more. A whole line of t-shirts could be produced using such classic lines as "Step away from the clam chowder," "Put down the corn cob." This is a fine new addition to an entertaining series.

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