Thursday, June 10, 2010

Audio Book Thursday - HELL HOLE

FIRST LINE: "It's almost 1:00 AM on a Saturday and the partiers inside the rental house at the corner of Kipper Street and Beach Lane are chanting like drunken soldiers chasing a runaway keg of beer."

When, by strange circumstance, Officer Danny Boyle ends up at a suicide scene outside of Sea Haven, he notices pieces of the puzzle don't fit with what he's observing. But this isn't Danny's jurisdiction. Notoriously sloppy crime scene investigator, Saul Slominsky, is more interested in his next snack than noticing the clues he's supposed to be collecting. So Danny discusses the scene with his partner John Ceepak. Ceepak is equally disturbed with the way the scene was handled and figures out a way to finagle he and Danny right into the heart of the matter. While Danny and Ceepak are trying to figure out why someone would want to disguise a murder as a suicide, Ceepak's father Joe "Six-Pack" Ceepak shows up looking for his ex-wife. Danny and Ceepak must juggle a platoon of Army Rangers looking for revenge, the sisters of the deceased, AND Ceepak's father while they wrestle this "hell hole" of a case.

HELL HOLE is book number four in Chris Grabenstein's John Ceepak mystery series. All the wonderful elements of the first three novels of this series are back in full force. Danny Boyle and John Ceepak are endearing characters that work so wonderfully together. The mentor and mentee, both taking turns playing each role. With each subsequent novel in this series, the reader is able to see more personal growth in the characters; that's a large part of what connects the reader with Danny and Ceepak. But Danny and Ceepak aren't the only wonderfully colorful characters. Each character inhabiting the Ceepak novels adds flavor to the overall taste of Sea Haven. It's like sitting on the boardwalk, people watching: Samantha Starkey joins the Sea Haven Police as a summer cop with limitless energy, Gladys from Tilt-A-Whirl returns running a health food deli on the beach, Joe Ceepak arrives in all his inebriated splendor, and an army-boot-wearing politician stomps through everyone's favorite oceanside resort town.

Chris Grabenstein has never let me down on the complexity of the plots in this series, either. There is plenty of humor and Grabenstein reminds us of its appearance in the ordinary, everyday events. Sometimes we're too close to these events in our lives to notice the humor, but stepping back we nod and acknowledge the comedy. But what lies beneath the surface of Grabenstein's plots is hefty and every book contains that "WOW" point where the hefty surfaces and reveals itself.

Danny refers to the "puzzle pieces" of solving a case in this novel, and that's precisely what a Ceepak mystery involves. But the puzzle isn't necessarily limited to the mystery of the plot. One of my favorite puzzles to work in each of these books is the layered meanings of the book titles. Of course each book is the literal name of a theme park/carnival ride or attraction. But that's the most basic of the title's meanings. There are always additional layers to fit together as well. HELL HOLE is especially felicitous with the backdrop of the Iraqi War.

This was the first Ceepak novel I listened to on a audio, narrated by Jeff Woodman. Normally when I've read this much of a series, a narrator can't live up to the sounds and personalities I've established in my brain already. That was not the case with HELL HOLE. Jeff Woodman does an absolutely magical job narrating this series. He nails Danny's sarcastic humor, Ceepak's brilliant cluelessness, Starkey's limitless energy, and Gladys' robust personality. He breaths life into the toughest Army Ranger and in the next breath gives voice to Rita, Ceepak's wife. Each character as beautifully distinctive in voice as they are in Grabenstein's descriptions. Woodman's attention to dialects and emphasis is meticulous. You can envision facial expressions and body language through his voice. What I hear when I listen to Jeff Woodman, is the passion I feel when I read Chris Grabenstein's books. This book-narrator combination is a match made in audio book heaven. Stick this pairing on the shelf next to Mark Hammer/Dave Robicheaux, George Guidall/Walt Longmire, and Ralph Cosham/Armand Gamache. Superb!

HELL HOLE and all the John Ceepak mysteries are available through Audible. In print HELL HOLE is available from St. Martin's Minotaur in both hardcover (ISBN: 978-0-312-38230-8) and trade paper (ISBN: 978-0-312-56561-9).

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Beth F June 10, 2010 at 8:25 AM  

Absolutely one of my favorite series is the Ceepak books -- on audio! Jeff Woodman is fabulous. I need to listen to the newest one.

Don't you just love the Saul Slominsky character?

And of course anyone who has ever rented a place on the Jersey Shore can relate to so many other aspect of the books.

Jen Forbus June 10, 2010 at 3:46 PM  

I do love Saul! And I cracked up when Gladys showed up. She's a spitfire. I just love all of the characters. They're so colorful and fun.

And you definitely have to listen to Rolling Thunder so you can meet "Officer Jen"! ;-)

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