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When a private jet crashes in the New Jersey Pine Barrens on the Fourth of July, the search begins for faded rock and roller, Turnpike Bobby Chin. The singer suspiciously survives and turns up wandering in the haunted woods. Soon after, a celebrity sculptor vanishes after unveiling his unflattering statue of the star. The cops say it's homicide, and make plans to bust Turnpike Bobby.
When the media circus begins, gangland-bred pollster Jonah Eastman is hired to devise a "P.A.S." (Plausible Alternative Scenario) for the sculptor's death. A beautiful au pair vanishes from Atlantic City, and it's all the media want to talk about – not Bobby. Which angers Bobby because he hasn't gotten this much attention since the Reagan Administration. As he works to vindicate the rocker, Jonah enters the inner-sanctum of the celebrity icon, a world so seductive and lethal that Jonah waxes nostalgic for his days working for the Mafia.
TURNPIKE FLAMEOUT is a black comic ride through the underbelly of mega-stardom and the spins employed by handlers to ensure that crime pays. Quite well, actually.
In Dezenhall's mildly diverting fourth mystery (after 2004's Shakedown Beach), Jonah Eastman, grandson of a late Atlantic City Mafia bigwig, agrees to assist a public relations colleague handling Turnpike Bobby Chin, one-time child star turned '80s rock star ("For a fleeting moment Bobby had become Jersey's second-favorite rocker after Springsteen"). Chin, who's trying for a second comeback, has somehow survived a private plane crash and become the lead suspect in the disappearance and possible murder of a local sculptor. Eastman, simultaneously repelled and fascinated by Chin's near-pathological narcissism, soon realizes that his new client is his own worst enemy, though Chin is ably assisted by investigative music journalists after his scalp as well as the not-especially-bright star's own supporters and hangers-on. While the author's narrative skill suffices to keep the plot rolling and tumbling, his would-be colorful characters come off as rejects from one of Elmore Leonard's lesser novels, and their snappy patter sags more often than it snaps.