The Jersey Shore portrayed in Chris Grabenstein's Hell Hole isn't exactly the paradise a chamber of commerce would want publicized. Instead, Grabenstein takes us to the world of Sea Haven, New Jersey, where police officers John Ceepak and Danny Boyle deal with the underside of a resort town - the drunken parties, the drugs, the run-down trailer parks.
Danny Boyle, who has grown from a part-time summer cop to a twenty-six-year-old full-time officer, guided by his partner's principles, continues to narrate the stories, with his own cock-eyed point of view. Ceepak is off one night, so Danny is partnered with a summer cop, Samantha Starky, when they're sent to the scene of a loud party. It's a drunken group of Airborne soldiers, returned from Iraq, and they're not too happy about dealing with the police, until they receive a phone call that one member of their group has been found dead, a probable suicide, at a reststop. Danny's not going to allow Sergeant Dixon to drive intoxicated, so he takes him to identify the body. That brings Danny to a crime scene that just doesn't look like a suicide, although he can't say why. However, the drugs found on the scene point back to Sea Haven, just the opportunity that Danny and Ceepak need to get involved in the case.
Only Ceepak and Boyle would want to stick their noses into this case, one involving a Senator, drugs, the partying soldiers, and Sea Haven's own lowlifes, the Feenyville Pirates. Only Grabenstein could so skillfully use this crime to reveal more about John Ceepak's background. Hell Hole becomes a complicated story that digs deep into Ceepak's emotions, dealing with the returned vets and his own memories, the suicide and his own past, and the story of his parents. This is the darkest of the Ceepak mysteries, the most complicated, and the best. Danny Boyle serves to alleviate that darkness. He's grown in the course of the series, but his wry commentaries are needed in these books.
Hell Hole is a complex story, revealing not only how much Danny has changed, but how much it takes for Ceepak to be the man he has become. Grabenstein continues to develop, writing darker, more ambitious stories. He hits his stride with Hell Hole, a dark crime story of politics, drugs, and family. If you've read all of the Ceepak mysteries, you're following the growth of a new master.
Chris Grabenstein's website is www.chrisgrabenstein.com
Hell Hole by Chris Grabenstein. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2008. ISBN 978-0-312-38250-8 (hardcover), 304p.