review x2: “grave” series

On Grave Surprise and An Ice Cold Grave, by Charlaine Harris

I won’t lie: I got a little overzealous, and I ended up finishing the next two books in Harris’s “Grave” series before getting around to the whole “review” process I’ve been trying to set up. As such, I won’t bore you with two vaguely similar reviews, but instead offer one post which covers both.

Grave Surprise

Book Jacket Summary:

At the request of anthropology professor Clyde Nunley, Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver come to Memphis to demonstrate Harper’s unique talent–in an old cemetery. Nunley is skeptical, even after Harper senses–and finds–two bodies in the grave beneath her feet. One of a man centuries dead. The other, a young girl, recently deceased, whom Harper had once tried, and failed, to locate. But Harper’s new investigation into the crime yields yet another surprise: the next morning, a third body is found–in the very same grave…

First off, Harris does a much better job in the second installment of this series of making me have to work at figuring out the identity of the killer. While I initially guessed right, Harris manages to create enough confusion around the murder that it was easy to doubt my first instincts. She also provides additional motives for other characters who I didn’t initially suspect, which almost made me change my mind a couple times. Overall, the character development is easy and enjoyable, and the plot development is similar. A very tidy little book — though there were no mind-blowing surprises, it was fun to read.

I particularly enjoyed the introduction of the mostly-fraud psychic Xylda (though she does have her moments of true talent) and her tattooed and pierced grandson, Manfred. Like I said, I enjoy the “new”ness of these books, in that each book provides a new set of characters to meet and become invested in. The traveling nature of Harper’s job makes a constant source of new and entertaining people.

And finally, the romance: it begins to pick up, as Harper realizes she wants a little bit more than just a close relationship with her step-brother. Harris neatly (and repeatedly) explains that Harper and Tolliver are united through a shared childhood but not by blood, making their budding romance strange, but not stomach-churningly-inappropriate.

An Ice Cold Grave

Book Jacket Summary:

Harper Connelly heads to Doraville, North Carolina, to find a missing boy—one of several teenage boys who have disappeared over the last five years. And all of them are calling for Harper. She finds them, buried in the frozen ground. Soon Harper will learn more than she cared to about the dark mysteries and long-hidden secrets of Doraville—knowledge of the dead that makes her next in line to end up in an ice-cold grave.

I think this book fits best in the “mystery” category. From the very beginning, it is challenging to guess who the killer is — but I wanted to know so badly that I flew through the book, determined to find the killer and bring him to justice. The set up and execution of this mystery is very clean and very well orchestrated; in fact, I didn’t even have a single idea at the identity of the killer of eight young, innocent boys.

I also love how dark this book is — the final fifty pages, in particular, are entirely engrossing. I think Harris really dives into the psychology of a serial killer — and even as things seem to be winding down, they suddenly pick back up with an intensity which had me (almost) biting my nails.*

My biggest frustration with this novel is that it puts information on the table which it does not address until the very end, making Harper appear almost stupid as she forgets a clue which she gave herself. Similarly, I have also started to become frustrated with the capabilities of Harper’s “gift.” While it is intentionally poorly defined, as Harper herself knows very little about its limitations, I find that Harris uses the gift to provide spotty but crucial information when she is stuck on how to move the story forward.

My second frustration, surprisingly, is the romance between Tolliver and Harper. I thought I would be so happy when they got together…but it seems almost too easy. They immediately speak of their mutual love, with no building romance. Though there are two and a half books leading up to this romance, I never felt I got an impression of their courtship — secret touches, awkward first kiss, bouts of insecurity — and thus never got a chance to root for their eventual success. It just…succeeded on its own.

Overall, I would say that Harris trades the execution of the mystery for the development of the characters in this novel. Regardless, it’s well written and fully entertaining, and I highly recommend it as a great casual read!

***

*Not really — after all, that would defeat the challenge this week!

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