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TILT A WHIRL
By Chris Grabstein
Carroll & Graf, 2005 ($23.95)
Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel
It's summertime and the New Jersey island community of Sea Haven is jumping. Danny Boyle, a young part time beach cop, has just joined his partner, John Ceepak, for their usual breakfast at the Pancake Palace: bran cereal with fruit for Ceepak, coffee for Danny. Ceepak wants to start their day by investigating the theft of a tricycle from a prominent citizen's front yard, taking time first to thwart a juvenile vacationer from stealing a waitress's tip money. That's the kind of crimes that usually happen around Sea Haven.
Officer Ceepak is a cop's cop, a perpetual Eagle Scout who does not lie, cheat or steal and does not tolerate those who do. He lives by a Code, and Danny respects and looks up to him. The officer served thirteen years in the Army Military Police, but after serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom he decided to return to the private sector. Chief Cosgrove, who served with Ceepak in Germany, offered his buddy a job on Sea Haven's force. Ceepak went through some kind of traumatic experience in Iraq that caused him to give up driving, so the chief assigned Danny to do the driving for him.
While Ceepak is busting the little thief, he spots a young girl running down Ocean Avenue, screaming and covered in blood. He runs to her assistance while Danny diverts the heavy beach-going traffic. She says that a wild-eyed crazy street person just shot her father on the Turtle-Twirl Tilt-a-Whirl ride at the Sunnyside Amusement Park down the street.
The identity of the victim comes as a shock. Reginald Hart, a real estate developer "kind of like Donald Trump," only with more money and better hair, has certainly acquired his share of enemies, but it seems that his golden life has come to an ignoble end, shot down by a crazy man while sitting in a giant painted turtle.
Danny and Ceepak set out to solve the murder, hampered by a slovenly criminal investigator, a mayor who just wants the thing over with so the tourists will come back, unforthcoming witnesses, and a police chief who seems oddly uninterested in the whole affair. When Reggie's daughter, now the sole heir to his fortune, is kidnapped, the stakes are raised. Ceepak promised Ashley Hart that he would protect her, and he always keeps his promises.
The cast of characters include a homeless man called Squeegee, Ashley's controlling mother, Hart's controlling attorney, Dominican real estate "facilitators"/drug lords, and other assorted oddballs. This is a hard-boiled, noir thriller with a heavy dose of humor and hijinks and a hot pink cover. Ceepak handles whatever comes his way with John Wayne strength and Clint Eastwood resourcefulness. Like the Canadian Mounties, he always gets his man. He never does anything without a clear purpose in mind. Even when Danny sometimes finds his tactics puzzling, if not disturbing, there's always a plan. The man's favorite philosopher is Bruce Springsteen, can't get much better than that!
Ceepak is a refreshing character, a Good Guy, an honorable man. Danny is a likable goofy kid with an eye for the ladies and a taste for beer. He got more than he bargained for in this job, but he is willing to learn from his mentor, and by the end of the book the part-time beach cop is well on his way to becoming a professional crime fighter.
The book is written in first person, a style that's difficult to pull off, but Grabstein makes it work. One quibble I do have? Danny has a speech pattern that's heavy on making statements into questions? That's fine for him, it's a distinctive individual trait. However, many of the other characters? They seem to have the same speech pattern. One might think it's a New Jersey thing, but I know a good many folks from that part of the world, and I don't recall hearing any of them talk that way. Or maybe it's just me? Still, it's a wicked good story, and I look forward to the further adventures of Danny Boyle and John Ceepak. The next book in the series, MAD MOUSE, is due out in June 2006.
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