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Tilt-a-Whirl, Chris Granbenstein, Carrol & Graf, $14.00.

Tilt-a-Whirl by Chris Granbenstein

John Ceepak is cool for two reasons. One, he is a Bruce Springsteen freak, and quotes The Boss whenever possible. Since he lives and works in New Jersey, Springsteen's lyrics are frequently extremely apt. Two, Ceepak has a code. Ceepak's code will be familiar to any fan of Jack Reacher, Harry Bosch, Elvis Cole, Spenser, etc. but he adheres to his code very closely, and in fact most resembles the almost superhero style Reacher more than any of the other aforementioned good guys. The "white knight" code is of course a familiar one to any reader and lover of mysteries, but Grabenstein goes it one better. He gives Ceepak's code a real reason to exist. In getting into Ceepak's backstory - in two especially moving and well written sequences - he really gives Ceepak's character more depth and meaning.

To backtrack, Ceepak is a cop in the small New Jersey resort town of Sea Haven. He works with the younger Danny Boyle, and as the two are enjoying their diner breakfast one morning, a young girl covered in blood stumbles down the street, crying and screaming. Ceepak instantly goes into action mode, with Danny on his heels. Turns out the girl's father - a world famous businessman (think Donald Trump) was shot to death while father and daughter were sitting together on the Tilt-a-Whirl, where they'd snuck in to talk before the park opened. The girl is pretty freaked out. Ceepak makes sure she's safe before he attends to the dead man and the attendant crime scene. Luckily Ceepak comes equipped with cargo pants whose pockets are filled - to Danny's continual amazement - with useful items, like lint free cotton gloves for crime scene processing. He's a little like a crime scene Mary Poppins.

Grabenstein has several skills that should take him very far, two of them being a good feel for pacing - this story moves right along; and the other is an unusually smooth way with prose. His prose may be spare but it's more than workmanlike, it's frequently elegant. He's also excellent with characters. He establishes Ceepak first as an Iraqi war vet - with a riveting scene where he tells Danny a horrible war story in a bar (and the whole bar is listening in) - and then he fills in more of his family backstory which helps to explain some of his behavior. He's like Joe Pike, only with a few more human outer trappings, and we know more about him from jump, but of course, unlike Joe Pike, he's the main series character so we need to know more about him. Then, while he's able to make Danny doubt Ceepak, I don't think the reader ever does. We're with him hook, line and sinker, and ready for another dose of Ceepak. This is a really exceptional first novel in what I hope will be a long lived series.


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