Grave Sight

Are you watching True Blood on HBO, the series about the mindreading waitress who gets mixed up with the paranormal? It's loads of fun and about to start its second season. If you're not, you should give it a test drive and see if you like it. I knew I was going to like it within the first few seconds of the first episode, as two drunken idiots try to get a thrill from interacting with a vampire, only to get a real scare when they realize their preconceptions are wildly wrong. Don't worry if you missed season one; it's currently on demand on HBO so you can get caught up before season two gets started. But I'm not really here to talk about True Blood; this week I want to discuss another series by the author behind the Sookie Stackhouse books. Charlaine Harris has written another terrific series about a girl called Harper Connelly who also has an unusual ability.

Grave Sight, the first book in the series, begins with Harper and her brother Tolliver traveling to a small town in Arkansas at the request of a bereaved mother. Harper is greeted with extreme skepticism, an attitude that makes her tired as she encounters it far too frequently. She's meant to be there to find the body of a missing girl but instead she is questioned and treated with disrespect. After a lot of petty and annoying bickering Harper and Tolliver head to the nearby woods where she first finds the body of a man who died while hunting, then the body of the missing girl, discovering that the girl was murdered, shot twice in the back.

While technically Harper's responsibilities end with finding the body of the missing person she's been hired to locate, in this instance she and her brother become embroiled in the investigations and are not allowed to leave town. Before she knows it, Harper is helping a handsome deputy determine the cause of his wife's death, which leads to another murder and increased tension in the small town. Harper and Tolliver have little to do, after all crossword puzzles only entertain for so long and it's hard to go out and do things when most of the neighborhood seems to despise you.

Harper isn't just struggling with her boredom and frustration at her inability to move on to her next assignment; she's also being harassed and threatened for the very ability that brought her to town. Her mysterious connection with the dead that allows her to find bodies and feel the last moments suffered by the deceased is giving the townspeople the heebie-jeebies. Naturally the murderer feels threatened by Harper's abilities but he or she isn't the only one. As word spreads through the town, more and more of the residents freak out, treating Harper and Tolliver poorly. As tension escalates to the point of violence, she reluctantly starts to investigate the murders on her own, not so much to solve them but mostly to answer her own questions and stave off the boredom that comes from their enforced stay in town.

Sadly murders are a dime a dozen in your average mystery story and you can't swing a cat without hitting an amateur detective. It takes something special to stand out above the rest of the mysteries and Ms. Harris manages it with her interestingly flawed characters. Just as Sookie Stackhouse has been damaged by her extraordinary ability, mindreading, so has Harper by hers. Both women are isolated because they are different and both of them are constantly beleaguered by their special senses. Sookie is plagued by her past, as her life drastically changed when her parents died in a freak accident. Harper is also scarred by her childhood; a loveless, poverty-stricken mess that descended into nightmare.

It is through her memories of the past and the way it affects her present that I felt the strongest connection to Harper. Writing about the effects of poverty is difficult because it's so easy to fall into cliché, or speak down to your readers, but Ms. Harris nails this character. I don't know how many times I nodded my head and said "Yep, that's right, that's how it goes." At one point where she describes an angry character who says things will only get worse for another character if they don't come out from behind the locked door I vehemently agreed. "That's right, that's exactly what they say," I said. "Like they're going to trick us out that easily. I don't think so." "Who are you talking to?" asked my son. "Um, nobody." When an author can write fictional details that are strong enough to get me responding out loud they're hitting the sweet spot.

Grave Sight has fantastic characters, a compelling mystery, danger and thrills. What's not to like? I was thoroughly satisfied by this book and am planning to pick the second in the series up this weekend. You can read an excerpt from Grave Sight here.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Barbie who wrote in about the American Idol season finale, saying, "Could not believe Kris won. We were POSITIVE Adam would win. We were SO disappointed." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.