Crime takes a vacation at the Shore in Chris Grabenstein’s breathtakingly paced first novel, Tilt a Whirl (Carroll & Graf, $23.95), set in the fictitious town of Sea Haven.
The detective team of John Ceepak, a policeman recently returned from army duty in Iraq, and summer cop Danny Boyle investigates the murder of slumlord Reginald Hart—“kind of like Donald Trump, only richer and without the gravity-defying comb-over,” Grabenstein writes. As the straight-arrow Ceepak—think Sherlock Holmes—and his sidekick Boyle—think Dr. Watson—make their way through Mussel Beach Motel and Pudgy’s Fudgery, they face pressure from a mayor who urges vacationers to have a “sunny, funderful day” even as they flee in droves.
Grabenstein, 50, is a successful advertising copywriter and onetime actor who did improv with Bruce Willis in the early 1980s. He developed the idea for Tilt a Whirl when he commuted to Manhattan from Metuchen during the ’90s and found himself reading mysteries on the train. He set his story in the place where he vacations each summer. “Beach Haven, Sea Haven—wink-wink, nudge-nudge,” the author says.
With his second book, Mad Mouse, due in the spring, and his third in the series already begun, the author is thinking big. “My dream is that the next couple of summers in Beach Haven we have a big Sea Haven festival,” Grabenstein says. He envisions tourists visiting the scene of the crime and other stops along the route of the murder investigation. With his publisher discussing a possible fourth Ceepak/Boyle mystery, the idea may not be so far-fetched.