Officer Danny Boyle is excited. After his efforts in solving the tilt a whirl murder, it’s an open secret that he will be offered a full time position on the Sea Haven, NJ police force. During the week before Labor Day, Danny is celebrating with a few close friends on the beach late at night when a phosphorescent paintball slams into his ribs. His friends are spattered, and one of them, Becca, is hit in the eye.
A frantic call to 911 brings an ambulance, which rushes her to a hospital, and summons Danny’s partner, John Ceepak, the quintessential detective, who had been home listening to his scanner, one of his hobbies when he’s not watching forensic shows on the Discovery Channel.
The next day, Doyle and Ceepak discover paintball vandalism on a mural outside a popular restaurant. And as Danny and a waitress friend leave a dinner with the Chief of Police in honor of his promotion, both are hit again with paintballs, but this time there’s something more – a near miss from a rifle bullet that Ceepak identifies as the type favored by military snipers. In the next attack, the sniper doesn’t miss; a shot to the chest sends Danny’s love interest to the hospital, unconscious and barely alive. Clearly, it’s personal.
The shooter has been leaving trading cards at his sniper positions, all referencing the year 1996: a card advertising The Phantom, a movie released in 1996; rookie cards for Derek Jeter whose debut year with the Yankees was 1996. At scene of the first fatal shooting, one of the cards bears a note for Danny: “You will never remember. I will never forget.”
Danny was 15 in 1996. He has only a few days to remember what he did then to trigger a killing spree ten years later. Labor Day is approaching, and the Sea Haven Chamber of Commerce is hosting a “Sunny, Funderful Beach Party Boogaloo” concert, expected to draw 50,000 tourists. Just like in Jaws, the mayor refuses to cancel the event; Danny and Ceepak must catch the sniper before he has 50,000 targets to choose from.
Mad Mouse, 2006 is the second book in Chris Grabenstein’s Boyle/Ceepak detective series set on the Jersey shore. John Ceepak, ex-military, is highly disciplined and always plays by the rules. Under the tutelage of his older partner, Danny is beginning to learn the virtues of discipline and rules.
Grabenstein’s mysteries are well plotted and avoid the middle-chapter slog that often plagues detective novels. The author’s humor and irony, channeled through Danny’s narration, finds ample scope everywhere in the resort town setting and in his descriptions even of passing characters: “He has this receding hairline coupled with wavy swept-back hair that makes him look like he might sing country music, only he’s wearing clunky glasses with a paper clip pinned through one hinge, and country stars seldom do that.”
The combination of compelling detectives, a setting where there is always more to see, and a well imagined and written crime made Mad Mouse a pleasure to read. I’ve already started the third book in Grabenstein’s Sea Haven series.