Reviewed by: BigAl
Approximate word count: 120-125,000 words
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A frequent contributor to boating magazines, C.E. Grundler says when she’s not writing she “spends far too much time aboard an aging trawler by the name of Annabel Lee.” Last Exit in New Jersey is the first of a series, with No Wake Zone, the second in the series, now available and a third book in process. Grundler is a regular contributor to Write on the Water (a blog maintained by several authors who are also avid boaters and sailors). For more, visit Grundler’s website.
“Nice young ladies really shouldn't be dumping bodies at sea. Then again, that isn't stopping Hazel Moran, and she can't figure where anyone got the idea she was nice to begin with.
Raised aboard her father's aging schooner and riding shotgun in their eighteen-wheeler, she can handle almost anything on the road or water; it's her people skills that need work. Normally that isn't an issue—most people tend to leave her alone behind the wheel of a Kenworth. But when twenty-year-old Hazel and her father become the targets of some unsavory characters hunting for her missing cousin, their stolen tractor trailer, and a delivery that never arrived, she knows it's time to heed a lesson learned from her favorite hard-boiled paperbacks: playing nice will only end in tears.
It'll take all her ingenuity, not to mention some fishing tackle and high voltage, if Hazel hopes to protect her family and unravel this tangle of greed and betrayal. And anyone who gets too close, no matter the intent, will discover just how dangerous Hazel truly is as she sets in motion a twisted plan to uncover the truth, settle some scores, and not wind up dead in the process.”
Last Exit in New Jersey is a mystery or thriller, but with qualities mixed in that are more common to noir (the frequent dead bodies and the character’s attitude about them for one thing) and even horror (one of the major characters feels like he’d fit well in a horror novel). When I encounter a mix like this, I find myself off balance in a good way. I’m never convinced that I know where the story is headed, because the typical genre conventions and formulas I would normally expect to be followed, don’t seem to apply. That’s what I experienced with this book.
The author integrates her interest and expertise in boats into the story with plenty of action on the water, at marinas, and in a boatyard, settings unfamiliar for many readers, which add spice to the story. I wouldn’t call them exotic, but they’re definitely different, unless you’re a diehard Travis McGee fan. I wouldn’t describe Last Exit in New Jersey as “fast paced,” in the sense in which this is usually used in relation to thrillers, because it is longer, with more going on than the typical thriller, but it is not guilty of being the opposite of fast-paced, it doesn’t drag. It held my interest and kept me coming back for more.
A small number of typos and proofreading misses.
Rating: **** Four stars