Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tilt-A-Whirl by Chris Grabenstein

In Tilt-A-Whirl, the first book in the John Ceepak series, John Ceepak is a former Army MP now employed by the Sea Haven, New Jersey, police department. Danny Boyle is his partner/driver. Danny's a part-time cop who has always lived in Sea Haven and works for the police department in the summers when the vacation season is going strong on the New Jersey shore. He's been assigned to work with John Ceepak and drive him, because Ceepak doesn't drive. But Ceepak does have The Code.

The two are meeting up for breakfast at the Pancake Palace when the book opens. During their breakfast, a young girl in a blood-soaked sundress runs out into the street screaming. Her father has just been shot and killed on the Turtle-Twirl Tilt-A-Whirl. As if a murder were not enough, the murder victim happens to be Reginald Hart who is "kind of like Donald Trump, only richer and without the gravity-defying comb-over."

Murder is not good publicity for a vacation resort town. So everyone from the mayor down wants this murder solved. But a wrench is thrown in the plan when Ashley, the young girl from the street - and the beneficiary of her father's millions, is kidnapped and held for ransom.

First of all, I just have to say "what the HECK took me so long to find this book?" It is outstanding! It doesn't surprise me in the least that this was an Anthony Award winner. There is actually a very serious plot underlying the whole story, but the dialogue is so well-written and so funny that the book never takes on a dark tone. And it MOVES. Have you ever been on a roller coaster ride that has you going along and then suddenly you jerk in a new direction? But ultimately, regardless of which direction you're whipped in, you end back at the beginning - one ride, one track, one conclusion! That's Tilt-A-Whirl only far more fun and far less whiplash. If you think you've got everything figured out in the book and you haven't reached the last page, think again!

The book is told in the first person from Danny Boyle's perspective. Maybe it's because I just read a Nero Wolfe this summer, but the Danny Boyle/John Ceepak combo had echos of the Archie Goodwin/Nero Wolfe combo for me. John Ceepak is a much kinder, more honorable and less neurotic character, but Danny idolizes Ceepak; in many ways he's like Ceepak's understudy. And of course, Danny tells us the story so we never see inside Ceepak's mind.

And character? Oh boy is this book chock full of FANTASTIC characterization. Part of what makes this book especially humorous is Ceepak's lack of knowledge when it comes to present culture. The man is able to tag every situation with a Bruce Springsteen lyric, but he needs Danny to translate for him when they are interrogating a teenage boy:

"Naw. Take notes, fellas - I'm the pimp-daddy playa." (Ben Sinclair)

"Danny?" (John Ceepak)

I translate: "He has lots of girlfriends."

"So why the scene with the gun?" Ceepak asks. "You're the mayor's son. Surely you know better than to scare all these innocent people...."

The way Ben Sinclair smirks? I think what he knows is that the best part of being the mayor's son is you get to roll around town doing whatever the hell you damn well feel like doing.

"That Ashley is wacked, dogg. Got all up in my face and punked me when I was representin' what be in my heart."

Ceepak just looks at me this time.

And Ceepak is a Boy Scout - he's always prepared. Ceepak wears a pair of cargo pants and is always pulling something out of the pockets:

He places them separately into small paper bags he's taken out of his upper left cargo-pants pocket. He keeps a miniature magnifying glass in another pocket near his knee. He must need to reload his pants first thing every morning.

Reload his pants...they are a weapon for Ceepak. And symbolically, Danny only wears cargo shorts.

Part of Ceepak's Code is that he doesn't lie, and he "doesn't tolerate anyone who does." Another part of Ceepak's Code is that he plays by he rules. In essence, Ceepak is a goody-goody, and I completely LOVE that about him. I also love the fact that he has dimples. And my favorite line of his from the books is "Swearing is the sign of a limited vocabulary." He's intelligent, too! Ceepak is the good out battling the evil. He has to be a bit conniving at times, but he follows his conscious and he does what he believes is the right thing to do. That makes him funny and lovable.

Danny is young and his sarcasm just drips off the page as you read:

I never buy the gossip rags, I just read them while I wait in the express line behind people who can't count to fifteen.

He makes the perfect narrator. Most of the time he's in the dark or a step behind, but he's observant. Danny obviously takes on the role of Ceepak's surrogate little brother. He wants to be like Ceepak and have the skills that he does. But he looks up to Ceepak as a person as well. He admires The Code and acknowledges that he doesn't have one, but maybe someday he will; he's working on it.

These characters just jumped out of the pages and came alive for me. I've actually started Mad Mouse, the second book in the series, already. I haven't read two consecutive books from a series since I listened to two Myron Bolitar books on audio near the beginning of the year. I just don't want Ceepak and Boyle to go away yet. My next favorite character list? You can be sure John Ceepak will appear!


Lesa September 29, 2008 at 9:42 PM  

Jen, I came to your blog to read your Banned Books Blog, and found Tilt-A-Whirl. I'm so glad you loved it! And, you are in for such a treat. The books, and the characters, just get better.

Ceepak! Ceepak! Ceepak! (And, it's so much fun to watch Danny mature in the course of the series. Hell Hole is terrific.)

Corey Wilde October 1, 2008 at 12:45 AM  

Ah, okay, Jen, another book for my list.

The quote about swearing being the sign of a limited vocabulary, Miss Vestal Brooks, my General Business teacher way back about 1969, used to say the very same thing.

But Miss Brooks was a smart, smart lady. She showed me the math, using compound interest calculations, on what it cost to buy a pack (at 35 cents a pack back then) of cigarettes every day. Over the course of 20 years, she showed me that it would cost the same as a house (then). Thanks to Miss Brooks, may she rest in peace, I never took up smoking and I didn't get tagged by the housing market crash.

beauvallet October 1, 2008 at 10:37 PM  

The TBR heap is just like Topsy...

Kristie October 2, 2008 at 8:50 PM  

Sounds like a fun book. I will have to look for it. What a great review!

By the way... I love your header pic... but I do dog ear my books sometimes.

darbyscloset October 2, 2008 at 10:09 PM  

You and your blog are trouble for me...Tilt a Whirl sounds so good that I went ahead and ordered it plus Mad Mouse from Amazon. It's been a long time since I have read two books in a row from a series....
darbyscloset (at) yahoo (dot) com

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