Grave Sight

Well, I'll say this for Charlaine Harris... she certainly has a very readable style. As one who has kept on reading all the Sookie Stackhouse novels, no matter what weird fairy things happen, I know that Harris has a style that flows very easily and she can usually come up with characters in complicated situations... who aren't all that complicated themselves (or at least not overly so). Here with Grave Sight and the launch of the Harper Connelly Mysteries series, we have another southern female narrator with a weird gift and without much education (though she's got plenty of street-smarts and likes to read) who manages to stir up trouble wherever she goes.

Harper Connelly can find dead people. After surviving a lightning strike as a teenager, Harper found herself able to "feel" dead bodies, the sense manifesting as a kind of buzzing in her mind. Every corpse gives off a tingle, even if it's centuries old, though the feeling grows more intense if the person died more recently. Her way of explaining this is that everyone, particularly those who did not die of natural causes, wants to be found. She can also tell exactly how the person died, often catching a glimpse of their final moments (though this almost never reveals who a killer could be, just the cause of death). She now makes a living off of this ability -- contacted mostly by the families of missing persons who have come to grips with the likely conclusion that their loved one is dead and the remains simply need to be found. Given a bead on where the body could be, Harper can locate it and explain the cause of death. She can't find missing persons (particularly if they're still alive), she can only find death... but she hopes this gives the families of the deceased some closure.

She works with her step-brother Tolliver Lang, who's a few years older than Harper and runs the business end of things -- the schedule, the payments, all of that. While not actually siblings, the two rely pretty heavily on each other (though sometimes Harper wonders what keeps Tolliver around, as she needs him a bit more). They didn't have a terribly easy childhood. Harper at least remembers a time when her family was well-off and whole, when she and her older sister Cameron were like any other middle-class kids without issues. Before their parents divorced. Before her mother married Tolliver's dad (when Tolliver and Harper were teens). Before their parents dissolved their lives in drugs and alcohol, plunging the kids into a life of hiding their home situation from authorities and raising two new half-sisters almost entirely on their own. Tolliver and his brother Mark didn't fall as far as the girls did in terms of social standing, but no one came out well. Mark, as the oldest, escaped the trailer and brought food when he could. Mark and Harper raised the little girls. And then Cameron was taken -- snatched off the road, leaving only her backpack behind and never found. The authorities swooped in and the little girls were given to a strict aunt for adoption. Mark assumed guardianship of Tolliver; Harper was put in foster care. Harper knows that one day, she'll find her sister's body and then they'll finally know at least a part of what happened, but for now, she and Tolliver drive across the country, working as "consultants" and finding the dead loved ones of others.

The particular case that Grave Sight focuses on involves a pair of teenagers -- a boy named Dell who was shot and whose body was located, and his girlfriend named Teenie, who disappeared. Harper has been brought in to find Teenie and perhaps qwell rumors that he killed her before committing suicide (or that she killed him and ran), but even when Harper manages this with relative speed, the case is far from over as she and her brother find themselves stuck in a town that does not want them there... in danger from a killer that has a secret s/he wants no one else to know.

In the end, the killer is obvious, but the road to get there is a perfectly acceptable crime/mystery novel, and the supernatural element of Harper's powers keeps the reader pretty aware of just who's telling the story. Harper seems like a slightly harder version of Sookie. People are frightened of her because of a weird gift; she's been knocked about a bit and so she's more likely to be blunt; and she has her very own indulgent activity (Sookie was suntans, Harper is manicures). AND Harper has dark hair. Clearly it's night and day here, folks. Despite these obviously overwhelming differences, it does take a while to shake the initial image of Miss Stackhouse for a reader who's used to Bon Temps, but eventually one sees enough of a difference in the storylines to pull away from Fangtasia. Tolliver is not as well-drawn as his sister, but he didn't immediately call to mind a counterpart from the other series (he's certainly no Bill or Eric). Their dynamic will clearly be the oddity at the heart of the series -- a brother-and-sister pair that aren't really brother-and-sister and so things could get weird. They both seem to think the other might be better off without this lifestyle so that they could settle down to do the marriage-and-kids thing, but neither is making that move (though Harper does dream of them buying a house together eventually). Perhaps one thing that was missing from this that I thought rather typified a fun Harris novel was a sex scene with odd descriptions or moments. Not that the sex is odd, it's just that sometimes there's a weird moment that makes one pause or even laugh out loud. I still recall Sookie's breasts quivering like puppies wanting to be petted. There is some sex here, but it's not described in any detail. It seemed oddly modest for the woman who once wrote about breasts as small animals.

With Grave Sight, Charlaine Harris has created another interesting character, but I'm not entirely sure if she's up to the task of the usual crime/mystery novelist where plotlines can get repetitive and the characters don't always progress much in their own lives. I think Harris is too interested in her characters to hold to the standard format for long, but I suppose we'll see. She does maintain her very Charlaine Harris sense of humor, which is part of what makes her style so identifiable. A particularly favorite moment of mine occurred during a fight where narrator-Harper said something like "the gun fell from his hand--yay!" before the struggle continued. It lets you know that even if she's creating a crime novel, Harris knows the reader is there for enjoyment and she's enjoying the ride, too.

It's a very fast read and for those Harris fans looking to tide themselves over to the next Sookie book, this first Harper mystery is perfectly satisfying for what it is. If I sound overly critical, let me emphasize again that I thought it was fun and I'll definitely be reading the next one... I'm just not sure if this series will have the same staying power as the Sookie books. If anyone could make a go of it as far as paranormal mystery is concerned, though, it's going to be Ms. Charlaine Harris.

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