Title: Last Exit in New Jersey
Author: C.E. Grundler
Page Count: 759 KB (Kindle format)
Synopsis: 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 old 18-wheeler, 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 hard-boiled 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 Hazel truly is 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.
For me, the mark of a good noir is the ability to render relatable and interesting characters who wouldn't be under any other circumstances. Last Exit in New Jersey stars a truly motley crew with so many twists and turns in the plot it required full attention to keep everything straight. At the end, though, much like the trucks that feature so prominently in the story, the finale isn't afraid to mow you down- it was intense.
Set against the backdrop of the New Jersey coast and all its relevant highways and byways, our story stars, among other folks, Hazel Moran, a young woman who may or may not be a complete psycho, but we like her anyway. No, seriously- Hazel is a no-nonsense person who doesn't like to be jerked around by anyone, and when someone tries she takes care of the problem right away. Sometimes this ends peacefully, but sometimes it doesn't; Hazel has an unfortunate habit of jumping to conclusions and creating her plans of action before all the facts have been delivered. She's loyal to a fault, and often to the wrong people- less than savory people know this about her and capitalize on it mercilessly throughout the story.
On the flip side of the story is Hammond, a paranoid, scarred survivor whose constant companion is Annabel, his own personal angel in more ways than one. Hammond is in turns brilliant and psychotic, with a mind like Swiss cheese- he can't remember much and what he does remember is garbled; his angel Annabel is there to pick up the pieces and put them together for him, to his eternal gratitude.
Tying them together is a twisted path of drug smuggling, secrets and lies, past hurts and betrayals, and many other little details that seem insignificant at the time but end up adding together in a big way at the end. This is the kind of book that will take multiple readings to see fully how one arrives at the end from the beginning; I like catching all the little details though so that's no hardship.
As we as readers try to figure out how Hammond and Hazel are connected and how the motivations of the other characters are going to impact the overall story, the road novel elements really shine. Hazel does the best she can to survive and defend those she loves; the fact that she doesn't care about anyone else is just a minor detail- unless you're on the receiving end, that is.
There's a sequel in the works to this story, and I'm definitely on board to read it when it becomes available.
C.E. Grundler has offered the choice of either a signed print copy or a digital copy of Last Exit in New Jersey to one lucky winner during the carnival! To enter, fill out the form below. When you're done, comment on this post saying you entered the Last Exit in New Jersey giveaway for an added chance to win the $25 Amazon gift card!Tomorrow's featured indie book: