Saturday, July 5, 2014

HELL HOLE by Chris Grabenstein


Chris Grabenstein’s Hell Hole came out in 2009, but it has application today.

Sea Haven, New Jersey, police officers Danny Boyle and John Ceepak investigate an apparent suicide. The victim returned from multiple tours in Iraq.

Unbeknownst to Ceepak, he had connections to the victim. Boyle becomes involved too because, previously, the dispatcher sent him on a disturbing-the-peace call. He later learned the loud, drunken soldiers are part of the dead man’s unit.

To complicate things, local thieves ransack the dead man’s car and steal his CD player. The whole thing revolves around drug dealing in the little tourist town of Sea Haven. Ceepak and Boyle get on the wrong side of a prominent U.S. Senator, the father of one of the soldiers.

And as if that weren’t enough, straight-laced, Dudley Do Right John Ceepak’s nasty, drunken father shows up in Sea Haven. That’s when what had been up to now an ordinary book turns into something special.

In a sense, Iraq is a background setting for this story.

A lot happens in Hell Hole. Events are more humorous and more serious than any summary makes them sound.

The humorous part is the straight-laced Ceepak and those around him. They investigate murders named after carnival rides or amusement parks in Sea Haven.

The now-unused Hell Hole ride is what we used to call the Grape Press. Riders stand along the wall of a large round smooth-walled barrel. The operator spins the barrel and people stick to the wall as the floor drops out beneath them. This particular Grape Press resides in the Hell Hole, a small, boarded-up, out-of-business amusement park in Sea Haven.

But the book’s title has other meanings too.

Along the way, Hell Hole explicitly describes crimes against humanity.

So how does this book apply to the present? In several ways. I’ve appended three quotes. Read them to find some examples of where I saw the parallel.

I always enjoy the John Ceepak-Danny Boyle books. If I were ranking this one among the Ceepak books I have read, I’d put Hell Hole at or near the top. 


No wonder the guy made it all the way to senator. He lies better than anyone in Washington, and that’s saying something.

“The Patriot Act clearly states that we can hold American citizens precisely because we do not have sufficient evidence to prove that said citizens have committed a crime meriting detention.”

            --The Senator’s justification for having his bodyguards kidnap Boyle and Ceepak.

CD number three is a gospel collection. A dozen songs entreating the Almighty to have mercy on the singer’s soul and not let him be forsaken in the Valley of The Shadow of Death, which could be another name for Iraq.

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