by Kristine Coblitz
Ocean City, New Jersey is known as “America’s Greatest Family Resort.” It’s broadcasted on signs throughout the area and on the boardwalk. There are two amusement parks, numerous miniature golf courses, arcades and family-friendly activities, such as the weekly “family night” with entertainment and contests.
My husband and I vacation there every year. My husband spent his summer vacations there as a child, and we plan to take our own children there. It’s a relatively safe place. No alcohol is served on the entire island, including in the restaurants, although there are numerous airplane messages that fly over the beach throughout the day for beer ads, and you can buy T-shirts in the plentiful novelty shops with suggestive messages about teenage drinking and partying. (This year, we happened to be there during Senior Week.) Cops patrol the boardwalk in the evenings.
This year, after having read TILT-A-WHIRL by Chris Grabenstein, I viewed my soothing beach surroundings with a more critical eye. The book details a bloody murder that takes place on an amusement park ride at the Jersey Shore. What I loved most about the book is the unexpected setting. A murder at a family beach resort? Unthinkable!
Being the paranoid crime writer I am, I immediately thought that every police car siren I heard meant that a murder had occurred. When I came home, I researched crime statistics at the Jersey Shore, particularly in Ocean City. While Ocean City is relatively low in crime statistics, there have been numerous incidents since 2001 involving robbery and aggravated assault, including some rapes.
I suspect there’s a lot going on underneath the surface of the pristine family resort that is often swept under the rug and kept out of the public eye in an attempt to maintain the safe, family-oriented image of the area. For example, after returning home, I learned about a lost gun that was found by a teenager at one of the amusement parks, which happened while we were there. The gun belonged to a cop on vacation who lost his weapon while on one of the amusement park rides. We had no idea the incident even took place, but it worries me to think about what could have happened.
Another example happened last year when we learned that a serial killer with a preference for prostitutes was on the loose in Atlantic City, which is located only a few short miles and a quick 10-minute drive away from Ocean City. That's a little close for my comfort.
As writers, I think it’s important to think about unusual settings for our stories and novels. One part of me was hesitant to hear or even read about crime in Ocean City, a place I’ve held as sacred for so many years as one of the few remaining areas immune from danger. Another part of me, however, was eager to research the dirty underbelly I know probably exists there.
I’ve learned that ignorance is bliss, especially on vacation. Do you agree or disagree?