Grabenstein, Chris

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Grabenstein, Chris


Born in Buffalo, NY; married; wife's name Jennifer. Education: Graduate of the University of Tennessee.


Home—New York, NY. Agent—Spieler Agency, 154 W. 57th St., Ste. 135, New York, NY 10019. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer. Previously worked at a bank in New York, NY; comedian in New York clubs; J. Walter Thompson (advertising agency), New York, copywriter; Young & Rubicam (advertising agency), New York, group creative director; Bart and Chris (radio creative services), New York and Seattle, WA, cofounder.


Mystery Writers of America.


Anthony Award for best first mystery, 2006, for Tilt a Whirl.



Tilt a Whirl, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2005.

Mad Mouse, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2006.

Whack a Mole, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2007.

Hell Hole, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2008.


Slay Ride, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2006.

Hell for the Holidays, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2007.


The Crossroads (for young readers), Random House (New York, NY), 2008.

Author of movie and television scripts.


Chris Grabenstein graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where he spent his available time acting at the university's Clarence Brown Theatre. He then left Knoxville for New York City, working evenings during the early 1980s as an improvisational comedian in a troupe that included the well-known actor Bruce Willis. He supported himself by day with a clerical job in a bank. However, writing was something he did from the time he was a child, and always with an eye to entertain. Over the course of his childhood, he wrote numerous plays, skits, and puppet shows that he and his brothers then performed for their parents in the basement of their family home, charging five cents admission per performance. In New York, he continued writing skits, this time for his friends, which were performed in another basement of sorts—a small theater in Greenwich Village. He also wrote scripts for Jim Henson's Muppets.

Grabenstein's first steady writing job was working for the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson. He got the job by answering a unique ad in the newspaper, placed by James Patterson, who ultimately became Grabenstein's boss. The notice included a page-long writing aptitude test that Patterson himself had created. Grabenstein responded and was the first person hired based on the test, out of a pool of two thousand responses. For nearly two decades, he wrote commercials there and for Young & Rubicam. In 2001, he made the break to become a novelist by penning his crime novel Tilt a Whirl, which became the first in his "John Ceepak Mystery" series.

Police officer John Ceepak is a veteran of the Iraq war who lives his life by a strict moral code. His partner for the tourist season is the more lighthearted Danny Boyle, who shares Ceepak's love of Bruce Springsteen music. The title refers to an amusement park ride at the resort town of Sea Haven, New Jersey, where the pair investigate the disappearance of Ashley. She is the daughter and heir of real-estate magnate Reginald Hart, who is shot while father and daughter are riding on the Tilt a Whirl. Nicole A. Cooke noted in a Library Journal review that "though a bit surreal, the ending is unexpected and satisfying and wraps up a good pace." Booklist contributor Jenny McLarin, who considered this debut to be "refreshingly different," concluded that it is Grabenstein's "development of the Ceepak-Boyle relationship that makes this an absolute triumph." The book garnered Grabenstein the 2006 Anthony Award for best first mystery novel.

In Mad Mouse, the second book in the series, Danny becomes a full-time policeman on the force and is targeted by an assailant who first uses paintballs, then real ammunition, resulting in the serious wounding of his sweetheart Katie. Whack a Mole finds John and Danny investigating a series of homicides that seem to be connected to recently discovered pieces of jewelry that had been missing for years. The charm bracelets and school rings belonged to women who were beheaded by a murderer John calls Ezekiel.

After Whack a Mole comes Hell Hole, the fourth title in the "John Ceepak Mystery" series. A man is found dead inside a locked bathroom stall at a rest stop along the Garden State Parkway. It appears to have been a suicide, but Ceepak is not so certain. First he has to determine how the murderer could have gotten in and out of the stall undetected, and then he must discover who the killer could be.

Slay Ride begins a new series, one that is darker, and begins as a former KGB agent, now working as an airport limousine chauffeur, is fired because of the complaint of a passenger. Nicolai Kyznetsoff leaves his employment but his passenger, Scott Wilkinson, is kidnapped, and many deaths follow. Christopher Miller is an FBI agent who has angered his superior by outperforming him, leaving him to think he'll be assigned to a desk for the rest of his career. He has uncovered a diamond-smuggling ring in which the goods are transported inside nesting dolls. Joe Hartlaub reviewed the novel for the Web site, concluding that it is "a thriller best read on the edge of your seat. Kyznetsoff is an unforgettable villain…. Miller is an immensely and immediately likable protagonist."

In Hell for the Holidays, Grabenstein's follow-up to Slay Ride, FBI Agent Christopher Miller finds himself searching for a white supremacist group that has been using the techniques and strategies commonly used by al-Qaeda terrorist groups to promote their messages. They strike first on Halloween, kidnapping a U.S. customs agent's seven-year-old son. Their next attack is scheduled for the Thanksgiving weekend, with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as their main target. This means Chris must spend the holiday away from his family, including daughter Angela, who was affected by his previous case and is still traumatized. Thomas Gaughan, writing for Booklist, found the novel to be a light read, stating: "Think of Hell for the Holidays as a beach book—timed for release after the beach season." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly opined that "this rapid-fire entertainment is sure to please Grabenstein's fans."

In 2008, Grabenstein branched out with his first effort writing for younger readers. His novel, The Crossroads, kicks off a new ghost series for middle grade readers.



Booklist, September 1, 2005, Jenny McLarin, review of Tilt a Whirl, p. 69; May 1, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of Mad Mouse, p. 32; October 1, 2006, Allison Block, review of Slay Ride, p. 41; September 1, 2007, Thomas Gaughan, review of Hell for the Holidays, p. 61.

Detroit Free Press, October 19, 2005, Ron Bernas, review of Tilt a Whirl.

Entertainment Weekly, December 15, 2006, Gilbert Cruz, review of Slay Ride, p. 92.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2005, review of Tilt a Whirl, p. 818.

Library Journal, September 15, 2005, Nicole A. Cooke, review of Tilt a Whirl, p. 60; June 1, 2006, review of Mad Mouse, p. 549; September 1, 2006, review of Slay Ride, p. 878; March 15, 2007, review of Whack a Mole.

Publishers Weekly, August 8, 2005, review of Tilt a Whirl, p. 216; May 8, 2006, review of Mad Mouse, p. 49; September 11, 2006, review of Slay Ride, p. 36; March 5, 2007, review of Whack a Mole, p. 42; September 17, 2007, review of Hell for the Holidays, p. 34.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel, January 4, 2006, Oline H. Cogdill, review of Tilt a Whirl; September 20, 2006, Oline H. Cogdill, review of Mad Mouse.


Beatrice, (September 29, 2005), Ron Hogan, "Guest Author: Chris Grabenstein," interview.

BookLoons, (May 30, 2006), Andrea Maloney, review of Tilt a Whirl; (November 22, 2006), Gloria Felt, review of Slay Ride., (June 4, 2007), Joe Hartlaub, reviews of Tilt a Whirl, Mad Mouse, and Slay Ride.

Chris Grabenstein Home Page, (June 4, 2007).

Mystery Reader, (June 4, 2007), review of Tilt a Whirl; Kathy Sova, "New Faces 41—Chris Grabenstein," interview, Lesley Dunlap, review of Tilt a Whirl.

Who Dunnit, (June 4, 2007), Alan Paul Curtis, review of Tilt a Whirl.