Grave Sight: A Review
Berkley Publishing Group, 2005
Hardcover: 263 pages
After becoming a fan of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse mysteries (and the televised alternate continuity that is True Blood), I started to search for other books she’s written. Much to my delight, Sookie isn’t Harris’s only heroine. Now it’s time for her latest series, Grave Sight.
My first instinct was to compare Grave mysteries heroine Harper Connelly to Southern Vampire‘s Sookie Stackhouse. There are similarities: both books feature heroines in their mid twenties who come from modest backgrounds that are bestowed with a telepathic ability that makes others uneasy. While Sookie can read minds, Harper has the ability to sense dead bodies that have yet to be found and tell how that person died. Both series are set in small towns in the South. Both heroines are for all intents and purposes orphans that are close with a brother who happens to be somewhat of a slut. Both heroines are very no-nonsense about their abilities and aren’t afraid to tell idiots what they can go do with themselves. Both also experienced sexual victimization at a young age and start the series either virginal or relatively inexperienced with sex and relationships.
However, do not think that Harper is merely a dark-haired Sookie Stackhouse who can hear dead people. Harper is a far more cynical character, having essentially watched her mother and stepfather descend into drug induced squalor. While Sookie loves her brother Jason, you don’t get the sense she relies on him the way Harper relies on her older stepbrother Tolliver.* Most importantly, while Sookie kept her telepathic ability under wraps until her relationship with Bill forced her to develop it, Harper and Tolliver have created a small business where they offer her “consulting” services to law enforcement and grieving families. They hire her. They pay her. And they think she is touched by evil.
Also in terms of the setting, while Harper has a supernatural ability, its origins are more mundane (a lightning strike when she was 15). Further, unlike the Southern Vampire books, there doesn’t appear to supernatural societies of vampires, werewolves, shifters, faerie and the like. Harper’s ability to feel the dead seems to be the only “supernatural” element thus far.
The actual mystery isn’t terribly unique–when Harper finds the dead girlfriend Sybil Teague’s (the richest woman in the Ozark town of Sarne) son Dell and finds she wasn’t killed by Dell in a murder suicide, she suddenly finds herself digging into the town’s deep dark secrets. There are affairs and betrayals aplenty and while I had an idea who the killer was about halfway through based on process of elimination, I couldn’t put together exactly what that secret was until about 20 or 30 pages before the climax.
That being said, the books still has what to recommend it. I enjoyed the relationship between Harper and Tolliver as they tried to piece together the town with the dark secret. I liked that the book gave a plausible explanation as to why Harper and Tolliver had to stay even after they completed the task they were hired for (finding Dell’s girlfriend’s body and clearing Dell’s name). Also, I appreciate Charlaine Harris’s ability to make good use of her small town settings, so much that they are characters in and of themselves. I have never been to a small tourist town in the Ozarks, but I felt sufficiently transported there by the story.
Overall, a good mystery written with Harris’s usual wit and crispness. Even if you figure out the deep secrets early on, you care enough about the characters that you still want to see how it plays out. They are fast reads, good for a beach or a long car ride. And I certainly will follow Harper and Tolliver to Memphis (as is indicated at the end of Grave Sight) and read of their adventures there in Grave Surprise.
*There are four other siblings and stepsiblings. One of them, a sister named Cameron, was kidnapped years prior and the ensuing media frenzy blew open the depraved lives Harper’s family was living. There are three other sibling–Tolliver’s older brother Mark and Harper and Tolliver’ half siblings Mariella and Grace. They do not play a huge role in this story, but the potential is set up for them to be in future books.