Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review: Grave Surprise

Grave Surprise
Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Harper Connelly books aren't my favorite of Charlaine Harris's series. I'm "reading" them (on audio, which isn't quite the same) while I wait for the installments of the series I am looking forward to. And, while it's entertaining enough, the parts I didn't like about the first book stand out even more when it's being read to me.

Grave Surprise starts with Harper Connelly, the woman struck by lightning who can sense dead bodies and tell how they died (but not by who), doing readings in a graveyard to prove she can do what she's often hired to do. She's up against a skeptical college professor and his class, and they're convinced when she finds a second dead body in a grave. The unexpected body turns out to belong to a girl Harper had been hired to find 18 months before.

In Grave Sight, I remember being at least somewhat convinced that Harper had a reason to stick around and solve the mystery. In Grave Surprise, that question kept cropping up in my mind, of what she was doing poking around at the mystery. Her motive seemed to be "sheer boredom," which fails to make for a riveting read.

I found myself tuning out large swaths of the narrative, too, because the pertinent parts were going to be repeated, either by Harper's incessant navel gazing, or when she relayed the conversation to Tolliver.

The gender essentialism in the book also grated. Harper has a very black-and-white view of how women and men interact, and she's unable to meet another female character without entering jealousy and verbal sniping into the equation. The man who is so hawt women fall at his feet, except for Harper, who's curiously immune and therefore suspicious, made me roll my eyes. And I had a hard time following Harper's logic of finding one male character equally charming and frightening.

It's possible I'm judging this book harshly because Harper spends most of the book prattling on about how much she cares about her brother (who's not related to her by blood, but still!), and the last quarter or so sad because it's finally sunk in that she's in love with him. I'm not sure if I'm more annoyed that she lacks that much self-awareness, or that this series seems to be Going There. No, their romance would not be illegal in any way, shape or form. It still bothers me; they were raised as brother and sister.

I do have to give Harris credit for diversifying her cast in this book. The Morgans, the family grieving over a dead daughter, are Jewish, there are two gay male characters, and the young man with enough hardware in his face to set off metal detectors a block away is a good guy. I also like the world-building. Though it's not that far a stretch from our own version of reality, in Harper's world, sensing dead people and seeing the future are inexact enough to cause skepticism, but reliable enough to make a living on guilt-free. Slipping in supernatural elements as they occur seems like a smart move, though I'm wary of the world getting overstuffed and overwhelming Harper's ability.

I intend to pick up the next book, but I really hope it doesn't have the same problems as this one.

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