Saturday, February 19, 2022

Grave Sight

Grave Sight
by Charlaine Harris
Recommended Ages: 14+

Fans of the Sookie Stackhouse series, a.k.a. Southern Vampire Mysteries, will be familiar with a concept that seems to work well for author Charlaine Harris Schultz: A series of romantic, paranormal mystery-thrillers built around a vulnerable and very feminine heroine with a special ability that comes at such a high price that it seems, at times, to be more of a disability. Like Sookie, Harper Connelly is nevertheless a very strong woman at her core, despite her frailties and maybe even because of them. Harper travels around the country with her stepbrother, Tolliver Lang, making a living by using her psychic ability to locate dead bodies and detect their cause of death. She actually depends pretty heavily on Tolliver, both as a business manager and an arm to lean on in her moments of weakness. Despite hiring them to do this, their clients don't tend to like them very much. Everywhere they go they are treated either like charlatans who cruelly exploit families' grief – as if they shouldn't be paid to do what they were hired to do – or, maybe worse, like something evil and demonic.

Actually, they're just a couple of survivors of a group of siblings whose alcholic parents let them down badly, with one sister who disappeared completely and two more who refuse to have anything to do with them. Harper, who gained her powers in her teens when she was struck by lightning through a bathroom window, still suffers from the physical and psychological damage of the strike, and using her powers takes a lot out of her. She doesn't handle thunderstorms well, has a weak leg and muscle tremors, and would just as soon not deal with people if she can help it. Without Tolliver, she would be pretty much defenseless – or so she thinks until their experience in a small Arkansas town where the search for a murdered girl opens up wounds that had better been left buried. Within hours of finding the girl's remains, Harper also detects that her boyfriend – who was believed to have killed her in a murder-suicide – was also murdered ... and so was her older sister, the wife of a local police officer ... and now their mother as well. Something that Harper's gift brought to life has also reinvigorated a killer who's had four victims and now seems to want to make Harper number five.

And then, to make the scene perfect, the local police arrest Tolliver on a trumped up charge and put him in jail, with no chance for a hearing for a couple of days. This clears the way for someone to put up a local high school bully to assault Harper in her own motel room, and for a sniper to take shots at her at the town cemetery. By this time, the siblings want nothing more than just to put the town behind them and let its despicable citizens grapple with their own problems, but a threat on the life of a lovesick teenager draws them back in for one last dark and stormy night of danger and drama.

Harper's special gift is an unusual and intriguing concept, and her relationship with Tolliver pre-loads this series with story possibilities. (Hint: They're not a romantic item, which leaves them both open to kissy-kissy side adventures.) It's definitely a dark concept, with Harper's talent limiting the scope of their sleuthing to "missing and presumed dead" type mysteries; and once the remains have been found and positively identified and cause of death established, any further insight into whodunit and why is a matter for traditional detective work, which they would rather leave to others. Why they do it in this case, at least, has more to do with the situation blowing up in their face than their chosen line of work. That, and the supporting characters drawing them in, against their will, to a puzzle with a dark spot of evil at the center.

This is the first novel in the Harper Connelly quartet by the author of the Aurora Teagarden, Sookie Stackhouse and Midnight, Texas series. Other books in the series include Grave Surprise, An Ice Cold Grave and Grave Secret. This review is based on an audiobook read by Alyssa Bresnahan.

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