Thursday, July 2, 2009

Chris Grabenstein's "Mind Scrambler"

Chris Grabenstein won the Anthony Award for "Best First Mystery" (given at Bouchercon 2006) for his debut novel Tilt A Whirl—the first in a series of John Ceepak stories to be set "Down The Shore" in a New Jersey tourist town called Sea Haven. It was followed by Mad Mouse, Whack A Mole, and Hell Hole.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to Mind Scrambler, the 5th John Ceepak mystery, and reported the following:
As an homage to Barbara Feldon and Get Smart, I decided to put my new John Ceepak mystery Mind Scrambler to the page 99 test.

Open the book to page 99 and yes, I think, the “quality of the whole will be revealed to you.”

I attempt to write the Ceepak mysteries, all named after amusement park rides or Boardwalk games, to resemble a good roller coaster ride: you’re laughing right before you’re scared to death; you’re all giggles as you climb up that first hill -- all screams on the wild ride down.

My narrator, Danny Boyle, the young rookie cop, looks at the world with a somewhat cynical eye and relates what he sees with a smart-alecky mouth. But then he and Ceepak get down to business and figure out whodunit.

On page 99 of Mind Scrambler we have the uphill laughs and the downhill horrors of a police procedural all on the same page.

The top of the page gives us the end of a search for the missing children of Atlantic City casino headliner, Richard Rock, the world famous illusionist. The two kids were the last ones in the room before their nanny (a friend of Danny and Ceepak from Sea Haven) was brutally murdered. They might be witnesses, which means they might also be the killer’s next targets. Our guys, aided by Cyrus Parker (another old friend from a previous book, Hell Hole), the head of security at the Xanadu Casino, find Britney and Richie Rock on the Atlantic City boardwalk and escort them back to the hotel and safety. Britney is, well, a monster. She is also a great character to have some fun with….

The kid talks faster than those TV commercials for prescription drugs listing side effects that may include death and anal leakage.

“Richie, on the other hand, still eats his boogers and blows snot rockets when he isn’t busy floating air biscuits. Air biscuit means fart.”

“Here we go, kids,” says Parker. Holding open a door into the casino. “Your parents would like to talk to you.”

“Why?” asks Britney.

“I guess because you took off like that.”

Britney freezes. Plants both hands on her hips. “We only did what our stupid nanny told us to do!”

“We know,” Parker says, leaning down and grinning like he’s the friendly ol’ bear in a picture book. “I think they want to talk to you about, you know, something else, too. Something pretty serious. Kind of grown up.”

“Oh. Like Jake and Katie doing the nasty?”

Somehow, Parker keeps smiling. “Your mom and dad are downstairs. Uncle Chang’s Ice Cream Parlor. Do you like ice cream, Britney?”

She blows Parker the lip-noise equivalent of one of those air biscuits. “Well, duh.” She marches into the casino, shaking her head, muttering, “Do you like ice cream? Jesus!” like the big man is retarded, too.

And then, after a two line break (ah, a passage of time) we’re right on to the nitty-gritty of the murder investigation.

Unfortunately, on page 99, everybody thinks Danny dunit. His image was the first one captured by backstage security cameras after the magic show curtain came down. He discovered the dead body.

And this time, as they say in movie trailers, it’s extremely personal: the murder victim is Katie Landry, Danny’s girlfriend form the second book in the series, Mad Mouse (no spoiler alert needed -- I give it away in the first sentence of Mind Scrambler).

The Atlantic City Homicide Detective has arrived and wants to talk to us. More specifically, he wants to speak to me -- the guy who discovered the body and, if the digital video in the surveillance control room is to be believed, the only human being to set foot backstage after “Rock ‘n Wow!” started.

Up then down. Twist then turn.

I think page 99 gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect when you read one of my Ceepak books -- a wild and fun roller coaster of a read.
Read an excerpt from Mind Scrambler, and learn more about the book and author at Chris Grabenstein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue