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Grave Sight

by Charlaine Harris

US hardcover edition

I read everything by Charlaine Harris that I can get my hands on. She's best known to SF readers as the author of the Sookie Stackhouse books about a small-town psychic with a vampire boyfriend, but I've also enjoyed her mystery series. Her books are lightweight but addictive, with swift pacing and absorbing first-person narration. She excels at writing about working-class Southerners in small towns.

Grave Sight is the first book in a new mystery series about Harper Connelly, who has the unlikely ability to find corpses and sense how they died. She can tell if a person was murdered, but not by whom, because otherwise it would be a very short book.

Harper and her brother Tolliver make a living doing freelance search and recovery; as the book opens, they arrive in a small Ozark mountain town where they've been hired to find a teenage girl who is missing and presumed dead. Harper easily tracks down the girl's body, but she has barely cashed the check before a fresh murder occurs, forcing her to stay in town until cleared of involvement. Local law enforcement is clueless, corrupt, or both, and the populace is increasingly hostile, so of course Harper has to solve the murder herself so that they can get the hell out of there.

The story moves quickly, and it sucked me in, but I didn't particularly enjoy it. I just never grew to like the protagonist; Harper has the requisite tragic past and an impressive array of twitches and neuroses, but they never gel into a personality. Because the entire story is spent in hostile territory, Harper's emotional gamut runs from defensive to paranoid. The other characters are even less endearing.

I've always loved they way Charlaine Harris plays with the strict social niceties of the Deep South; everyone knows their role and their obligations, and you can be as cruel or as kind as you like so long as you observe the proper forms, but God help you and the next three generations of your family if you break the rules by mistake. In Grave Sight, Harper and Tolliver are outsiders, and their social interactions are brief and shallow.

Harris can do much better than Grave Sight. It's utterly lacking in humor, and unusually dark for Harris (which is saying something). It also doesn't help that the central puzzle is obvious. I'll read the sequels, but I can't recommend buying it in hardcover. If you're a fan, wait for the paperback. If you're new to Harris, start with Dead Until Dark (the first Sookie Stackhouse vampire book) or Shakespeare's Landlord (the first Lily Bard mystery) instead.

-- Christina Schulman.
Reviewed in
October 2005

hardcover edition
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Date: October 2005
ISBN: 0-425-19178-8
Binding: hardcover
Pages: 263
Price: US $23.95

If you like this book, you will probably also enjoy:

Charlaine Harris: Dead Until Dark

Charlaine Harris: Shakespeare's Landlord

Charlaine Harris: Real Murders

Robin McKinley: Sunshine

Tanya Huff: Blood Trail

Laurell K. Hamilton: Guilty Pleasures

Laurell K. Hamilton: Bloody Bones
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Oct 2005 / CMS