Chris Grabenstein

John Ceepak/Danny Doyle - Part-time Summer Cops, Sea Haven, New Jersey Shore

"Tilt A Whirl"

(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie JAN 29, 2006)

"Some guys have a code they live by, some guys don't.
John Ceepak? He has a code.
Me? No code. Not unless you count my ZIP code or something.
I took this job because I am twenty-four and Sea Haven is, as you might've guessed, a sunny haven situated by the side of the sea - an eighteen mile-long barrier island crammed with motels and beach houses and bait shacks and ice cream shops called stuff like 'Do Me A Flavor' and the 'Scoop Sloop.'"

Chris Grabenstein's Tilt A Whirl is set in a south Jersey resort town gone to seed, similar to the small New Jersey town where I grew up. As a kid, I loved the Tilt-a-Whirl - it was always my favorite ride. Thus I was doubly drawn to read the author's debut novel about the fictional town of Sea Haven and a crime even seedier than the surroundings. Of course, I never knew anyone who was murdered on the Tilt-a-Whirl.

By the end of Chapter One billionaire entrepreneur Reginald Hart is found shot dead in the Turtle-Twirl Tilt-a-Whirl at the town amusement park, belying the advertising "Sunnyside Playland Is The Most Fun Under The Sun." His twelve-year-old daughter, was present at the scene and witnessed the crime. She is subsequently kidnapped and held for ransom. And that's not all...but for more you have to pick up this often funny, deadly serious mystery that will keep you smiling while anxiously turning pages on the edge of your seat.

Our narrator, twenty-four year-old Danny Boyle, is a local who works as a part-time cop for the busy summer season. Busy in Sea Haven means the winter population has quintupled and too many college kids overdo it with the brewskies. Rowdiness is the biggest crime...usually. John Ceepak, a former MP just back from duty in Iraq, is Danny's partner and a major hero figure. John lives by a strict moral "Code" and Danny is awed by how his sidekick adheres to it. The two have Bruce Springsteen in common and constantly quote lyrics from The Boss's songs to make a point and illustrate events in their daily lives. I like Danny, but he often sounds more like a seventeen year-old adolescent than a twenty-four year-old adult. This is bothersome.

While the narrative occasionally skirts the borderline of being cutesy, Grabenstein does a good job of entertaining and immersing the reader in the mystery and sub plots. However, he so disappointed me with the conclusion. I don't want to write anything that would spoil the story, but the ending is not only too pat, I think it diminishes the worst crime of all by tying everything up in a too tidy bundle. I actually felt offended at times. The twist in the storyline might be believable, however ultimately two or three cardboard characters, their final dialogue and behavior spoil things. I'll let the reader make up his/her own mind. Worth reading, but watch out. The last twenty pages stretch credulity.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 77 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Tilt A Whirl at author's website

(back to top)

Bibliography: (with links to

John Ceepak/Danny Doyle series:

Chris Miller Series:

Zak and Stepmother Judy:


(back to top)

Book Marks:


(back to top)

About the Author:

Chris GrabbensteinChris Grabenstein grew up in small town Tennesse. He graduated from the College of Communication and Information in Knoxville in 1977. He then moved to New York City and spent almost twenty years writing commercials for America's top advertising agencies. He begin his career by taking a Writing Aptitude Test administered by James Patterson. Over 2,000 applicants responded and Chris was the first writer hired. At the end of his advertising career he was an Executive Vice President/Group Creative Director at Young & Rubicam. Chris has written screenplays, made-for-TV movies, Muppet scripts and lots of advertising spots on TV.

Chris lives with his wife in New York City. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014