Title: Last Exit in New Jersey
Author: CE Grundler
Published: July 21st 2010
Sypnosis: Nice young ladies from the Garden State really shouldn’t be dumping bodies at sea. Then again, 20 year-old Hazel Moran is anything but your typical Jersey girl. Raised aboard a schooner and riding shotgun beside her father in their old tractor-trailer truck, there’s little on the road or water that she can’t handle; it’s her people skills that need work. Normally that isn’t an issue – behind the wheel of a Kenworth most people tend to leave her alone. But when Hazel and her father become the targets of some unsavory characters hunting for her blue-haired cousin, their stolen tractor-trailer truck and a delivery that never arrived, she knows it’s time to heed a lesson learned from her favorite hardboiled paperbacks: playing nice will only end in tears.
For ten sweltering days Hazel navigates the Garden State’s highways and shorelines, contending with a suspiciously wealthy stranger, white trash, Born Agains, appliance salesmen, an unstable stalker and his curiously troublesome companion. 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 their intent, will discover just how dangerous shy little Hazel truly can be as she sets in motion a twisted plan to uncover the truth, settle some scores, and if possible not wind up dead in the process.
Somewhat hard-boiled, slightly noir, Last Exit In New Jersey is an offbeat tale that travels from a Delaware Bay ghost-town to metropolitan north Jersey, where boats and big rigs set the scene for danger, suspense, dark humor and an unlikely bit of romance.
Status: Read from December 20 to 21, 2010
Last Exit in New Jersey is an action packed story that deftly weaves unconventional characters into a darkly intriguing thriller.
Grundlers’ intricate plot is tightly constructed as Hazel Moran finds herself caught in a deadly tangle of smugglers, thieves and killers. The story moves forward at a brisk pace with moments of brutal and explosive action as Hazel tries to evade the shadowy figures targeting her family while hunting for her missing cousin. The plot is intricately layered and while, if at times I was frustrated by the possibilities, I was never confused by the twisting threads of the premise. The author builds the connections between the seemingly disparate events and characters with care and skill. I thought the plot clever and challenging, requiring engagement with the characters and story.
I found the psychological disquiet of the characters the most compelling and unique aspect of the novel.
It becomes clear as the story progresses that Hazel is an unusual heroine. Her motivations are transparent, but she has an edge of violence and instability that is disconcerting. Otto is obviously struggling with sanity and while his behaviour is consistently motivated by his obsession with Hazel/Annabelle, the potential for him to fall apart with spectacular consequences is always present. In regards to the other characters it’s not always obvious whom means harm and whom means to help, and this contributes to the complexity and tension of the story.
Grundlers experience with trucking and boating in New Jersey gives her work authenticity, and her imagination provides for an original, entertaining thriller with fascinating characters. Last Exit in New Jersey is a well written, impressive debut novel.