Review: Sea Haven (NJ) detectives John Ceepak and Danny Boyle are in Atlantic City for a deposition when they run into Danny's old flame Katie, who invites them to a magic show starring her current employer, a show during which she is murdered, in Mind Scrambler, the fifth mystery in this series by Chris Grabenstein.
Katie is working as a nanny for illusionist Richard Rock's two children when she meets up with Ceepak and Danny. She invites them to the "Rock 'n' Wow" show, but whispers to Danny that she needs to talk to him right after. Ceepak and Danny have another reason to see the show: Richard Rock thinks one of his competitors will try to steal his most popular illusion during the show, and having two cops in attendance may help thwart the theft. After the show completes, apparently without incident, Danny visits Katie's suite only to discover her dead, tied to a chair and strangled. Security cameras show him, and just him, entering her suite and he is initially a suspect. But he's soon cleared, the security camera evidence notwithstanding, and works with the ACPD to discover who killed Katie and why.
A locked room mystery with elements of magic and illusion would seem to be an ideal foundation for a crime novel. But Grabenstein fails to deliver here, and Mind Scrambler ultimately disappoints. Ceepak and Danny take a little getting used to. That they're patterned after Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson is obvious, Ceepak being methodical in his investigation, Danny being impatient and impetuous. Danny also narrates the story, using present tense no less. Ceepak treats Danny with affectionate condescension, not unlike the way Holmes treats Watson. At one point, after Danny draws a conclusion, Ceepak says, "Of course. Well done, Danny! Excellent analysis." One can almost visualize Ceepak patting Danny on the head. Ceepak is also apt to making statements worthy of the great consulting detective. "We must redouble our efforts to separate illusion from reality. We must be certain we know what we are looking at, not what we might be looking at."
It's not Ceepak and Danny who are the problem here, but the other characters. The author makes no attempt to instill any originality into any of them, resorting to caricatures instead. The mystery plot, the various illusions and misdirection are all developed and handled quite well, which makes it all the more discouraging that the non-series characters are so predictable in their actions and reactions. How refreshing this mystery could have been had the stereotypical characters done something out of character, as it were. Ceepak just might have said, "Roger that."
Acknowledgment: Minotaur Books provided a copy of Mind Scrambler for this review.
Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
Riley Mack and the Other Known Troublemakers
Harper (Hardcover), April 2012
ISBN-13: 9780062026200; ISBN-10: 0062026208
Location(s) referenced in Mind Scrambler: New Jersey
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Mind Scrambler by Chris Grabenstein — A John Ceepak Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: June 2009
List Price: $24.95