Friday, 3 June 2011

Read in 2011 - 13: Grave Surprise

Not long ago, I read the first book in this series and wrote about it here, and I was expecting a rather similar experience the second time around.

And why this is definitely part of the same series, with the same main characters being very much in line with what we already know about them from the first part, there are some noteable differences to this one, "Grave Surprise" by Charlaine Harris.

First of all, though, some basic info; let me quote directly from the book a short passage that explains in Harper Connelly's own words what makes her different to other women in their twenties, who have not, like her, been struck by lightning and survived it when they were teenagers:

"I find the dead. I find corpses. People call me in, and I find the bodies of those who've passed on. If the relatives or the police can give me a bead on the location, I can find the body. When I find the body, I know the cause of death.
I feel them, like a buzz in my head. The closer I get, the more intense the buzz, the vibration, is. When I'm on top of them, I can reach down and tell how they died. I'm not a psychic. I'm not a precognate, or a telepath. I don't see who killed them. I only see the death when I'm near the bones."
Harper and her step-brother Tolliver travel around, reacting to requests by clients who come across Harper's special talent sometimes by accident, sometimes by recommendation. Tolliver manages the business side, keeping track of all their appointments and handling their income (because of course she gets paid for her services, just like anybody else expects to get paid for their work) and expenses, and he also assists Harper during and after her actual work, which tends to leave her drained, even shaken, depending on the situation.

The two of them are inseperable, and while in the first book they come across as (step)siblings who truly care about each other, this time we learn more about their past as well as their present, their relationship with each other, with their other (half)siblings and people outside the family. We learn how they choose a movie they want to see, what they like for lunch, the colour of Harper's nail varnish and when the two of them do research on the internet about ADS when they learn that one of their younger half-sisters is diagnosed with it - such are the very ordinary and normal bits in the book that I appreciate, especially as these are not presented without humour.

What I liked in the previous story was that the paranormal bit did not feature prominently. Unfortunately (for me), a new element is introduced in this book - one that, strictly speaking, is not necessary for the plot and does not really contribute to solving the whodunnit, which is about an 11-year-old who went missing 1 1/2 years ago and was never found by Harper (who was, back then, engaged by the parents) - until, totally unexpectedly, the body of the girl turns up in an old grave on a cemetery in a different town.

It takes Harper and Tolliver a while to work out the connection between the various events from the past and present and between this place and where the girl originally went missing, and two more people lose their lives before it comes to the big showdown (this time, there is no thunderstorm going on at the same time, but, once again, the stage for the showdown is set in a wealthy suburban home, one where neither Harper nor Tolliver could ever really feel at home themselves).

Mostly, I still like the way the very normal everyday things are described, the way people talk to each other (like real people do), and the way Harper handles her rather unusual life in a rather pragmatic and realistic manner. What I did not enjoy was the added boost to the paranormal bit in this story, but I guess a book that is classified as "Paranormal Mystery" has to have some of that as well, and a lot of readers are probably disappointed because there isn't more.

What I complained about last time - the bad editing - has definitely improved here. There are only very few mistakes which are more down to typesetting errors than to sloppy editing.

The third story is next on my shelf. It will actually be interesting to find out more about Harper and Tolliver - not her special talent, but the much larger part of their lives, firmly grounded in reality.

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