Friday, 23 July 2010

60-63: The Harper Connelly books by Charlaine Harris

Book 1: Grave Sight
Book 2: Grave Surprise
Book 3: An Ice Cold Grave
Book 4: Grave Secret

Publisher: Gollancz
Total page count: 1216 pages
Date begun: June 23rd, 2010
Date finished: June 27th, 2010

WARNING! MAY CONTAIN MILD SPOILERS FOR GRAVE SECRET!

As I read all four books in 5 days, I decided to blog about them all in one review. Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse-books are currently enjoying great success, as HBO have loosely adapted them into the very entertaining True Blood. Having been a fan of Harris' Sookie books for nearly a decade, and having also read her Lily Bard-books, I decided that I was curious to see what the Harper Connelly books were like.

Unlike the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire-series, there is nothing really supernatural at all about these books. Once you accept the premise that Harper Connelly developed the ability to sense where the dead lie, and what they died of, after being hit and nearly killed by lightning, these books are pretty much straight-forward mystery/suspense novels. All four books are easy and entertaining reads, and the series seems pretty much completed after book 4. I think Harris could probably continue the series if she chose, but the various threads begun in the first three are completed in book 4, so if she chooses not to write any more, the readers will not feel cheated.

Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver Lang travel around the US helping people find dead people. As mentioned, Harper senses the dead after being hit by lightning as a teenager in her parents' trailer. She would have died if Tolliver didn't perform CPR on her until emergency services arrived. Harper's mother and Tolliver's father were high powered and successful lawyers who married, and then started using drugs and alcohol, until they were a lot less successful, and Harper, Tolliver and the lives of siblings became really quite grim. They spent much of their teenage years trying to take care of their baby sisters and fooling the authorities about what really went on in their home. Once Harper's older sister Cameron disappears, however, they have to contact the police, and the family gets split up. Harper got placed in a foster home, Tolliver went to live with his older brother, and their baby sisters got taken in by Harper's religious aunt.

Now Harper and Tolliver make money by hiring Harper's services to people. In Grave Sight, they get called to a small town to find the body of a missing teenager. Harper finds the body, but since she can also determine cause of death if she is close enough to the remains, she discovers that the missing girl was shot in the back twice, and once at the grave of the boy suspected of killing said girl, she reveals that the boy did not commit suicide like everyone suspected, but was killed as well. When it's also revealed that the missing girl's sister was murdered, the plot thickens. Not everyone is happy about Harper's revelations, and both her and Tolliver's lives are threatened before they can leave town.

In Grave Surprise, Harper and Tolliver are called to Memphis by an anthropology professor determined to prove to his class that Harper's abilities are bogus. Instead Harper pretty much baffles his entire class with her "powers", and also, unexpectedly, discovers the body of a young girl in an old grave. The body is that of an eleven-year-old Harper had been asked to find a few years earlier, but as she can only sense dead bodies, not locate specific ones, she was never able to find the girl. Now the case is reopened, and the coincidence of the body being in an old, unused graveyard Harper just happened to be in seems to great for the Connelly/Lang siblings to ignore. They decide to try to solve the murder themselves.

In An Ice Cold Grave, Harper faces her most difficult case yet, when she is called to find a missing teenager in Doraville, North Carolina. He is one in a long line of young men who the town suspect ran away. Harper finds not only his body, but that of eight other boys, brutally murdered, and clearly tortured before their deaths. The town is deeply shocked by her discovery, and the serial killer clearly has no plans to let Harper live to discover his identity.

In Grave Secret, Harper and Tolliver go home to visit their shared younger sisters, and to reveal to Harper's aunt and uncle who are raising them, that their relationship has changed beyond that of stepsiblings. They are also asked by a local rich woman to determine the cause of death of her father. While doing this, Harper also discovers that said rich woman's father's nurse died, not from a burst appendix, but from complications in childbirth. The woman wants Harper's help to find the missing child, even though Harper and Tolliver try to explain that Harper can only find dead people. As the case progresses, however, it seems strangely linked to the disappearance of Harper's sister Cameron all those years ago, and Harper and Tolliver may finally find out what happened to her.

All four books were entertaining, and well written. Harper is a smart and capable young woman, who has been through a lot of difficult things in her life, but is determined to make the best of it. She is often met with suspicion and sometimes even hostility because of what she has chosen to make a living of, a lot of people think that she is a fraud and that she is conning and exploiting grieving families to support herself and her stepbrother.

Tolliver is Harper's assistant, manager, companion and best friend. As Harper often gets exhausted and worn out after doing a job, she needs someone around to take care of her, and she frequently suffers from headaches and muscle aches, even though the lightning strike was years ago. He organizes her life so she doesn't have to.

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