Book review: Grave Sight

[This review is a bit dense, but I do not reveal whodunit.]

Grave Sight is the first book in the Harper Connelly series by Charlaine Harris, who is probably best known for the Sookie Stackhouse books on which the TV series True Blood was based. The Sookie Stackhouse series features vampires, shapeshifters and fairies, but Harris' other mystery series have no supernatural elements at all. The Harper Connelly series falls somewhere in between.

Harper Connelly was struck by lightning when she was a teen, and afterward discovered that she can sense the location of dead bodies and can see the moment of a person's death. Harper and her brother Tolliver Lang have set up a consulting business so that they can make a living using Harper's unique ability.

In Grave Sight (love the pun) Harper is contracted to find, and indeed does, the body of a teenage girl named Teenie in the small town of Sarne, Arkansas. Harper is able to determine that Teenie was murdered, and that her boyfriend, initially believed to be a suicide, was murdered as well. Afterward, Harper and Tolliver must remain in town as persons of interest until the sheriff releases them. In Sarne, a place that attracts tourists with faux hillbilly shops, the real life residents are a reflection of those hillbilly caricatures, with intertwined, twisted relationships. Secrets are uncovered when another of the townspeople is murdered, an older murder is revealed, and both Harper and Tolliver are endangered.

I like our main characters Harper and Tolliver. They have to travel constantly because of Harper's job, they live like the Winchesters in cheap motels and eat diner food, and Harper longs for a real house of her own. Harper, who tells the story in first person, speaks of her constant companion Tolliver as her brother, but as the first book progresses, we learn that Harper's mother married Tolliver's father when they were teens, they are not related by blood, and that he is the most important person in her life. Harper and Tolliver are strongly bonded by their common horrendous childhood experiences with their alcoholic/addict parents that culminated in the disappearance of Harper's sister Cameron, who was never found. Harper has accepted that Cameron is almost certainly dead and hopes that someday, she'll find Cameron's body and learn what finally happened to her.

While the mysteries in each book are complex, well-plotted and hold my interest, it's Harper and Tolliver, their current relationship, and their shared past that are the main draw of the series for me. (It's always the characters, isn't it?) Although it appears on the surface that Tolliver is taking advantage of Harper's gift to generate a meal ticket for himself, he's not; he's with her because she needs him and truly cannot do what she does without him. Harper and Tolliver are both attractive people in their twenties, and their low key jealousy of each other's dating activities suggests that Harper loves Tolliver as more than a brother, and that it's likely that he returns her feelings.

Along with this complicated relationship, one of the things I find fascinating about the series is the way Harper is treated. If people don't believe she can do what she does, and mostly they don't, they think she's a despicable charlatan and con artist. Cops threaten to throw her in jail. Some people who believe in her ability see her as evil, and even want to physically hurt her. Clients who benefit from her services often feel that she should do it for free, completely discounting the time and effort she puts into her strange job, and how much it takes out of her. Sometimes they blame the messenger and irrationally hate her because of the murders she uncovers. Harper has serious defense mechanisms and has learned to cope with all this, but it makes her life, and Tolliver's, unusual, difficult and dangerous.

I'd read the Harper Connelly books some years ago, and only recently started rereading them because a couple of the supporting characters, Manfred and Xylda Bernardo, got their own book series which recently became a television series, Midnight, Texas. (They're not in Grave Sight, by the way; they arrive in the next book.) I haven't read any of the Midnight, Texas books yet, but I plan to read and review them after I've finished reviewing the Harper Connelly series, which is only four books.

And by the way, only the third installment of the four volumes has an easily remembered title. They were published in the order below. (If you're interested in trying any of them, going through the Amazon link on the right will help support Doux Reviews!)

1. Grave Sight
2. Grave Surprise
3. An Ice Cold Grave
4. Grave Secret

After my disappointment with how the Sookie Stackhouse series turned out, the Harper Connelly series is my favorite of Harris'. I like the characters, I like everything involved in how Harper uses her ability, and the mysteries are plotted out quite well.

My reviews of the remaining three books in the series and the first of the Midnight, Texas series will be posted soon.
---
Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.

1 comment:

Unobservant Bird said...

I discovered the the Harper Connelly books for the first time a few years ago, right around the release of An Ice Cold Grave (not only an easily remembered title, but my favourite among the four books.) I definitely agree that it's the characters, and particularly Harper and Tolliver's relationship, that are the series's main strength.

I like Harper a lot, but I think it's a close second to the Lily Bard series for me. I like how she deals with Lily's past, as well as the ongoing race and class issues in Shakespeare. As a Canadian, I have no idea if her portrayal of the American South is accurate or not, but it feels realistic. Also, Lily is just a great character.

I feel like Charlaine Harris does better as a writer when she sticks more to what she knows; I like her more realistic fiction (the Lily books have no supernatural elements, the Harper Connelly ones could easily be set in our world too) better than the Sookie Stackhouse ones—and I even liked the early SS novels better, before there was too much worldbuilding around the vampire / shapeshifter societies.

Thanks for the review! I haven't thought about the HC books in a while—might be time for a re-read!