Before I review Mind Scrambler, the latest John Ceepak mystery by Chris Grabenstein, I have to let readers know that I was predisposed to like this book. I read Mind Scrambler in manuscript form, and I'm thanked in the Acknowledgements, as "I want to thank...Lesa Holstine and librarians everywhere." Now that I've said that, Chris asked me to read the manuscript because he knew I'd be honest about my opinion. So, here it is. If you're not reading Chris Grabenstein's mysteries, why aren't you? He's writing some of the best mysteries out there right now, both adult and juvenile. And, Grabenstein certainly creates interesting characters.
If you haven't yet read one of the Ceepak mysteries, they feature two cops from a resort town in New Jersey, Sea Haven. In the course of the series, we've watched Danny Boyle grow up, from a part-time summer cop to a twenty-five-year-old cop, a little more mature, but still learning. And, he's studying under John Ceepak, an MP during the Iraq War, a man who lives by the West Point honor code, "I will not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do." It's not easy for a kid who grew up on the Sea Haven beaches to live up to that standard, but Danny's trying.
Mind Scrambler, the fifth book in the series, takes Danny and Ceepak to Atlantic City, where they're taking a deposition for a murder trial. They're still checking in when Danny runs into an old girlfriend, Katie Landry, who is working as a nanny for the children of Richard Rock, an illusionist. Six hours later, while Danny and Ceepak enjoy the magic show, Katie dies. And Danny is the first one on the scene, where he finds Katie tied up, dead, in a pose appropriate to a porn film.
If the hotel can't shut down the story, it will be made for the tabloids, with "kinky sex, celebrities, backstage romance, murder, death." So, Danny and Ceepak are deputized by an Atlantic City detective to help with the investigation. Is Katie guilty of kinky sex? Why did she call Danny, saying she wanted to talk about her new boyfriend, Jake? Where is Jake? Why is Danny the only one seen on a camera in the hall, despite the fact that Rock uses that hallway for his illusions? What is the connection to Lady Jasmine, another illusionist? Ceepak reminds Danny that "Magic is the art of misdirection", and there seems to be a great deal of that in the course of the investigation.
Ceepak sees their confusing case as part of the misdirection, "The more we listen to this cavalcade of lies, which can only be countered by those who have been silenced or remain unavailable for questioning, the more we are trapped inside their illusion." But, Danny, the kid from Sea Haven, compares it to the Mind Scrambler, an amusement park ride. "It's like everybody we meet in Atlantic City is determined to keep us spinning around in circles underneath a dark dome."
No one involved in this case will emerge unscathed, a case with murder, sex, illusion, and disillusion. Grabenstein successfully scrambles the minds of his two main characters, along with the reader's mind. Ceepak and Danny will both be changed by their experiences. In the last book, Hell Hole, Grabenstein revealed more of Ceepak's past, the ugliness and brutality he witnessed in life. As each book peels back more of Ceepak's life, he becomes even more interesting. And, as Danny works with his mentor, he continues to grow. Grabenstein's characters have depth. Each book in this series builds on the previous one. Grabenstein himself is a Mind Scrambler, keeping his readers and his characters on their toes.
Mind Scrambler is only the fifth book in the Ceepak series. If you've missed the earlier books, now is the time to start the series and catch up. Chris Grabenstein is writing about two of the most interesting, complex characters in crime fiction right now. Mind Scrambler is the perfect summer mystery. So, I'll end this as I started. If you're not reading Chris Grabenstein's mysteries, why aren't you?
Chris Grabenstein's website is www.chrisgrabenstein.com
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Mind Scrambler by Chris Grabenstein. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2009. ISBN 9780312382315 (hardcover), 352p.