I’m almost done reading Tilt-A-Whirl, by Chris Grabenstein. With a few pages left to go, I confidently recommend this novel enthusiastically. The character who narrates the story in the first person is a young, part-time cop in a summer-tourist community on the Jersey shore. His distinctive voice is perhaps the best thing about this work. A random example:

I don’t have much besides coffee at breakfast. I’m usually lugging around the chicken wings or mozzarella sticks or raw oysters I ate the night before.

Most of the booths and tables near us are filled with local shopkeepers fueling up for another day of selling trinkets and taffy. But there are a few tourist families scattered here and there — the ones with hyper kids who’d never let mom and dad sleep in on a Saturday, changeover day or not. The ones who fling their forks at each other and topple sippy cups and steal their sister’s crayons so they can color in the maze on the Kidz Menu and help Princess Griddlecakes escape from Margarine Mountain.

At least that’s who’s sitting in the booth next to ours.

Behind Ceepak’s head, I see two monsters bouncing up and down on the banquette, a boy and girl standing so they can pour syrup out of sticky bottles and soak their plates three feet below. I think they’re playing airplane.

I anticipate a sugar-rush hurricane will hit the table in under five.

“Someone stole a tricycle this morning,” Ceepak says.


He checks his notebook, I guzzle coffee. He’s raring to go; my engine isn’t even primed.

“From a residence over on Rosewood,” he says. “Chrome-colored three-wheeler. Valued at $350.”

“Three hundred and fifty dollars? For a tricycle?”

“Roger that. It was stolen right off the folks’ front porch. Call came in at 0630.”

Did I mention — Ceepak has a police scanner in his apartment?

In general, this is a fast-paced mystery, with a title that describes not only the amusement park ride where the victim is killed but also the structure of the book. And I can’t help mentioning that Grabenstein even draws a mathematical connection with the ride of the title:

I remember this day in math class.

We’d all seen Jurassic Park hundreds of times and were asking for an explanation of the “Chaos Theory” Jeff Goldblum’s mathematician character kept yammering about when he really should have been keeping an eye peeled for dinosaurs. Our teacher quoted this article by a guy named Ivars Peterson and told us about the Tilt-A-Whirl and its geometry of a circular platform with cars that pivot freely along a track of hills and how, if the operator keeps the whole thing going at the proper speed of 6.5 revolutions per minute, it’s practically impossible to predict what will happen next as you spin around and around and around.

The teacher called it “mind-jangling unpredictability.” Chaos Theory in action, for two tickets a ride.

Categories: Books