Officer Danny Boyle isn’t the only one going for a roller coaster ride in Rolling Thunder, the sixth entry in author Chris Grabenstein’s John Ceepak/Jersey Shore mystery series. Memorial Day weekend in Sea Haven, New Jersey finds Danny and his partner, John Ceepak, working crowd control at the grand opening of the Rolling Thunder roller coaster. “Big Paddy” O’Malley, owner of the Rolling Thunder, his family, and assorted town dignitaries are also on hand to be the first to experience the seaside town’s newest attraction.
They get more than they bargained for when Mrs. O’Malley has a heart attack and dies during the coaster’s initial run. Though the death appears on the surface to be nothing more than an unfortunate tragedy, Ceepak and Danny are bothered by the lack of distress exhibited by several members of the family and begin looking into the workings of the O’Malley clan. As they are doing so another death, this one unquestionably a murder, confirms their suspicion that something is fishy in Sea Haven.
As with all previous entries in this outstanding series, Grabenstein serves up a wonderfully complex mystery for Ceepak and Danny to tackle. Along the way they must deal with a jealous, potentially criminally complicit colleague, prominent members of the community engaging in organized activities of questionable legality, a mayor who wants nothing more than to not upset the tourists, and a family with Shakespearean levels of dysfunction.
Engaging mysteries notwithstanding, it has always been the characters of Ceepak and Danny themselves that truly set the Jersey Shore series apart from run of the mill crime fiction. Though they’re easy to describe in broad brush terms for a book jacket – Ceepak the straight-laced, by the book former Military Police Officer, Danny the young, wisecracking local who got into part-time law enforcement on a whim – there is so much more going on.
Over the course of the series we’ve learned about the chaos in Ceepak’s early life that drove him into the military and shaped him into a man who craves extreme order as a means to feel in control of his life. We’ve also seen glimpses into the darkness that lurks beneath Ceepak’s ordered surface, reminding readers that he’s much more than the “Dudley Do-Right” his foes often describe him as.
Likewise, Danny has shown himself to be more than a wisecracking side-kick. Initially only caring about his part-time job with the Sea Haven PD because “chicks dig the cop cap,” Danny has grown to appreciate and take pride in his individual role as a police officer, as well as his status as Ceepak’s partner. He’s also developed into a formidable investigator in his own right, and the events that unfold in Rolling Thunder set the stage for Danny to take a tremendous step forward in his maturation as both a police officer and a man.
Yes, in Ceepak and Danny Grabenstein has, with a sure hand, brought to life over the course of the series two of the most interesting, multi-faceted protagonists in modern crime fiction. Those who’ve been reading the series since its Tilt-A-Whirl debut will love the continuing evolution of Ceepak and Danny, while those new to Sea Haven will find ready-made friends they’ll feel as though they’ve known forever. No doubt about it, everyone should be in line for a ride on Rolling Thunder.
Rolling Thunder is available from Pegasus (ISBN: 978-1605980898).