Review

Whack a Mole: A John Ceepak Mystery

by Chris Grabenstein

WHACK A MOLE heralds the welcome return of Chris
Grabenstein’s series featuring the pairing of narrator Danny
Boyle, a rookie police officer in the beach town of Sea Haven, New
Jersey, and John Ceepak, an older, more experienced cop. Boyle, on
the cusp of adulthood, is the stereotypical newbie in thrall of
Ceepak, the straight-arrow Iraq War veteran with a by-the-book code
of honor and an encyclopedic range of knowledge. Readers of the
previous novels may be somewhat surprised with the decidedly darker
turn that WHACK A MOLE takes, making it much closer to SLAY RIDE
--- Grabenstein’s stand-alone thriller of 2006 --- than to
TILT-A-WHIRL or MAD MOUSE.

Things get rolling in WHACK A MOLE when Ceepak discovers an old
class ring on the beach while treasure hunting. He identifies the
rightful owner and reunites him with his ring. It turns out that
the owner had given the ring to a young woman who subsequently
vanished some 20 years before. Ceepak is intrigued and starts to
quietly investigate the long-ago disappearance, with Boyle in tow
and observing. It is not long before other objects --- grisly
objects --- from the past begin to show up in highly unlikely
places.

It becomes obvious to Ceepak and Boyle that years ago a serial
murderer had operated, undetected, in Sea Haven and is now getting
ready to end his hiatus. Grabenstein offers up a likely cast of
suspects and potential victims, even as Ceepak and Boyle discover
that some of their greatest obstacles to solving the case lie not
from outside the police department but from within, as their
investigation is hampered by professional jealousy and efforts to
cover up what were apparently cold crimes in the interest of
preserving the financial success of the current tourist season. Yet
Ceepak and Boyle soon find that the mysterious killer is leaving
them no choice, as he not only has picked his next target but also
has selected someone close to one of the team.

Grabenstein has crafted a solid mystery here. The manner in which
the killer taunts the police is very unique --- I will never be
able to walk into a resort town gift shop again without thinking of
this book --- and the identity of the murderer, while plausible,
will keep you guessing. I was absolutely sure I had his identity
pegged and nailed, but I was totally wrong. This series has already
won an Anthony Award in the course of its short history; after
reading WHACK A MOLE, it would seem that Grabenstein, who
undoubtedly will receive additional accolades, may need to add a
trophy room to his domicile if he has not done so already.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011

Whack a Mole: A John Ceepak Mystery
by Chris Grabenstein

  • Publication Date: May 22, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Carroll & Graf
  • ISBN-10: 0786718188
  • ISBN-13: 9780786718184