Grave Sight, by Charlaine Harris (no spoilers, I promise!)
Book Jacket Summary:
Harper Connelly has what you might call a strange job: she finds dead people. She can sense the final location of a person who’s passed, and share their very last moment. The way Harper sees it, she’s providing a service to the dead while bringing some closure to the living-but she’s used to most people treating her like a blood-sucking leech. Traveling with her step-brother Tolliver as manager and sometime-bodyguard, she’s become an expert at getting in, getting paid, and getting out fast. Because for the living it’s always urgent — even if the dead can wait forever.
Oh goodness, how I love Charlaine Harris — just look on my bookshelf, and you’ll see almost every book in the Sookie Stackhouse series in glossy hardback first-editions (and what I wouldn’t do to own the first two in similar format!). And so I’m sitting there, working at the Library sorting books out, and what do I come across? All three books of another of Harris’s series about another young woman named Harper Connelly. I was in need of some reading material, and short on cash — so why not? I was not disappointed! Harris is classically witty, smart, and entertaining. Her writing is succinct, yet always engaging. Moreover, I love her characters.
I was most worried about Harris’s character Harper, who had the potential to be so similar to Sookie Stackhouse that she would be predictable or uninteresting; in fact, I think many authors fall into the trap of always writing similar characters across the board. However, I was pleasantly greeted in the very opening of the novel by a unique and interesting character who has nothing more to do with Sookie than a strange ability which sets her apart from the crowd. Harper was struck by lightning at sixteen, and has since been able to locate the dead; while her ability is fairly unimpressive and subject to much speculation in the long run, it does provide her with a steady source of income in providing solace for the grieving — whether it’s determining real COD or finding a missing body, there’s always a someone who wants her help. Harper is shy, and she’s absolutely terrified of lightning (for good reason), but she’s not mousy or annoying (a trait I find in many shy heroines). She also has clear loyalties to her family — particularly her step-brother, Tolliver — and a need to do right by the dead: as she says, all they want is to be heard.
Speaking of Tolliver — mmmh, cut me off a piece of that. Despite his acne scars and troubled past — or maybe because of it — Tolliver is a bit of a lady’s man. Confident and business-savvy, yet still dark and moody with his troubled past, he acts as Harper’s manager. He’s incredibly protective of his sister in a way that screams “future romance of the novel” in all the good ways — because remember, they’re not blood related! Harper and Tolliver together have a dark history, made light only by each other — they were forced into the same family when her mother and his father married and indulged in some pretty nasty things (drugs), and grew close as they helped keep their little family going. It’s all very dramatic, but never full of angst — they’ve had a rough life, and it’s made them unique characters.
And now to the story! Harris clearly prefers to dabble in the supernatural, first with Sookie Stackhouse and now with Harper Connelly, and she does it so well! The skepticism that Harper and Tolliver meet as they fulfill their contract is entirely believable, and the trouble they encounter (especially as they aid police investigations) is equally credible. While Harper can’t see who the killer is (that would be too easy!), she becomes a problem when she provides crucial information to the investigation — because what killer would really believe she isn’t a fake until she reveals what only the dead (and the killer) could have known?
I always love Harris’s ability to build tension and develop action sequences. Though her writing style always leads you to know it’s coming, it’s still easy to get caught up in the moment. My only complaint would be that this book is not quite a mystery, despite its classification as such. Given the characters at the beginning and the development of the story, it’s pretty easy to stay two or even three steps ahead of Harris. In fact, you could probably pick out the killer right in the first quarter of the book, given any experience with various crime shows or mystery novels. However, that still doesn’t take away from the novel — because even if Harper struggles to reach conclusions the reader might instantly see, it’s because we (as readers, viewers, and media-saturated human beings) are familiar with the structure of these stories, and not because we would have so quickly drawn the same conclusions in real life. As such, I just had to maintain my patience as Harper struggled through some of the clues. And low-and-behold! I was rewarded with a surprise! Granted, it was only a slight deviation in the end I’d already predicted…but it was exciting and satisfying just the same!
Things I look forward to in the next book:
- A greater understanding of Harper’s past, both with her family and with the lighting strike. Surprisingly, we don’t find out much about either in the first novel — Harris gives us just enough to understand where Harper comes from and to keep us interested, but not so much that there’s nothing left to tell. In fact, I crave more information about her dark past.
- Romance! Harris really holds in the reigns on the romance in this first novel. While she does give us a tasty little treat in the form of a dashing young cop (and the husband of a murder victim), she holds back on the clear potential romance between Harper and Tolliver, almost ignoring it entirely to lead us off track. I will not be fooled, however, and have already become excited about what might become a truly sweet (and challenging) courting, full of bumbling mishaps and adorable misunderstandings…
Conclusion: well worth your money! One day, when I am rich and able to afford to buy books I have already read (rather than supplement my collection with ones I have yet to tackle), I will purchase these books in hardcover to add next to my collection of Sookie Stackhouse. Because honest and truly, I love Harris’s writing style. If I were to ever want to pursue writing again, it would be with similar goals: to create something entertaining, witty, and easy to enjoy. On my mental bookshelf, this book already lies right at eye-level: a place of honor, but more importantly, easy to reach for when I’m craving a good re-read!
Miscellaneous thoughts: I have already started the third book, Grave Surprise, and am incredibly satisfied with what I’ve read thus far. The cool part about this series is that the job description requires a completely new cast of characters each novel — because each novel, we are at a different job. And (teaser!) there’s a whole bunch of bumbling and misunderstanding already!
Miscellaneous news: an upcoming “additional challenge” will be to start and maintain a list of books I want to read. I allowed myself to merely take my Dad’s suggestions when in high school and college because I had neither the experience nor the time to pick books for myself. However, as I get older, I find there are a growing number of books I believe I either should read or want to read (or both!), and I’m having trouble keeping track of them all! Look for this list in the (hopefully) near future!