Monday, May 14, 2012

WHACK A MOLE by Chris Grabenstein


“Antwoine James had no family except the Army. No home except Fort Hood. He was a tough kid from the streets of Houston who joined the Army because he wanted to become something better. When his body arrived in Dover, no one claimed it. No one was allowed to see his coffin in the newspaper or on TV. There was no one to take his folded flag, the flag given on behalf of a grateful nation.

“I’m afraid the nation was too busy to show its gratitude to a young black soldier who grew up in the wrong part of town. He was considered ‘less dead.’”

Less dead.

And so, once again, Ceepak helps me understand the significance of solving the Mary Guarneri puzzle.

Dover. Private Antwoine James.

Sea Haven. Runaway Mary Guarneri.

In Ceepak’s world, every life is worthy of honor and respect, no matter how shady the circumstances surrounding it. No man is less dead than any other. No child less missed.

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Chris Grabenstein’s John Ceepak mystery Whack A Mole has at least three things in common with the first Ceepak mystery, Tilt-a-Whirl. (1) The book describes terrible murders using a light narrative tone. (2) The book mixes true feeling with a formulaic story. And (3) The book has a complex plot with an unexpected villain.

When Ceepak discovers a missing high school class ring on the Sea Haven beach, he has no way of knowing that will lead him to a serial murderer.

The serial murders stretch over more than thirty years. They come to light when the murderer begins leaving preserved body parts and skulls as clues. The murderer wraps the skulls of the murdered women in newspapers dated the week of the killings.

Then there comes a present-day threat to someone John Ceepak loves.

John Ceepak is an Iraq veteran with a strict code of honesty. He struggles with PTSD.

Ceepak’s sidekick Danny Boyle is a full-time cop now. Boyle tells the story. His tone reflects the light, vacationland tone of setting, Sea Haven on the Jersey Shore.

Grabenstein’s formula is much the same as in Tilt-a-Whirl. This time we have three chase or shooting scenes, one involving Ceepak’s incompetent colleagues. There is a hair-raising finale. And the murderer is a horrible surprise.

As with the Jack Frost books, most of Ceepak’s colleagues have the wrong values. They are looking for publicity and promotion. Ceepak and Boyle truly want to help people. They want to find the serial murderer and give the grieving families closure.

I see the Ceepak books as similar to TV episodes. When I turned to Mannix or The Rockford Files, I knew what I was going to get. And I got it every time.

I get the impression it will be that way with the Ceepak novels too. They will be good formulaic entertainment with a few characters whose feelings I can understand and share.

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I purchased this electronic book at a sale price from Amazon. I read it on my iPad. This is among several low-priced electronic books I hope to write about. There are a lot of good electronic books available at lower prices. Maybe they will balance out the more-than-$9.99 electronic books which have become so common now.

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