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Monday, August 7, 2017

‘All the Little Liars’ Aurora Teagarden #9 by Charlaine Harris

From the BLURB:

Aurora Teagarden is basking in the news of her pregnancy when disaster strikes her small Georgia town: four kids vanish from the school soccer field in an afternoon. Aurora's 15-year-old brother Phillip is one of them. Also gone are two of his friends, and an 11-year-old girl who was just hoping to get a ride home from soccer practice. And then there's an even worse discovery at the kids' last known destination, a dead body.

While the local police and sheriff's department comb the county for the missing kids and interview everyone even remotely involved, Aurora and her new husband, true crime writer Robin Crusoe, begin their own investigation. Could the death and kidnappings have anything to do with a group of bullies at the middle school? Is Phillip's disappearance related to Aurora's father's gambling debts? Or is Phillip himself, new to town and an unknown quantity, responsible for taking the other children? But regardless of the reason, as the days go by, the most important questions remain. Are the kids still alive? Who could be concealing them? Where could they be?

With Christmas approaching, Aurora is determined to find her brother . . . if he's still alive.

‘All the Little Liars’ is the ninth book in Charlaine Harris’ recently-rebooted ‘Aurora Teagarden’ cozy-mystery series, about a sleuthing librarian and her little town of Lawrenceton, Missouri (the first few books of the series have also recently been adapted into a bunch of quite-okay but much tamer than the books, Hallmark Movies starring Candace Cameron Bure).

I say this series has been “rebooted”, because the last we saw of Aurora was the 2003 book ‘Poppy Done to Death’. Harris wrapped up (or so we thought) the Aurora Teagarden mystery series, just as her ‘Sookie Stackhouse: Southern Vampire’ series (which would eventually become the ‘True Blood’ TV series) was really taking off … around book three, ‘Club Dead’.

I know Charlaine often gets asked which of her backlist mystery series she’s most likely to revisit with new books – and her answer has long been ‘Aurora Teagarden’, purely because that’s the universe where she still has story-ideas. I, personally, would give *anything* for more books in ‘Lily Bard’ which is my go-to “Must Read Charlaine Harris” rec, but I was fine to have new-anything from Ms Harris. However … the rebooted Aurora is a little odd.

For one thing – you definitely can’t come to ‘All The Little Liars’ without having read all previous eight books in the series. I assume though, that part of the reason Aurora ‘Roe’ has been revisited is because Charlaine has nabbed a whole bunch of new readers in the time since ‘True Blood’ and the Hallmark movie adaptations – the covers have been redesigned, there are omnibus editions out now … so certainly, I think there are new readers coming to these books and her entire backlist. Charlaine Harris has been revisiting and rebooting a few of her series lately, in general. ‘Midnight, Texas’ (which is now also a TV show, and not half bad) was Charlaine bringing together a bunch of random secondary characters from all her past series.

But for those of us who stuck with Aurora from the very beginning, it’s hard to forget the weird transition the series went through around book 6, ‘A Fool and His Honey’ which is when (SPOILER ALERT) – Aurora’s husband, Martin, was killed off. This was undoubtedly a shock, and Charlaine tried to reign in a happy ending in books 7 & 8 by reintroducing a love interest from book 1 in crime-mystery writer, Robin to pair off with Auroa at the 2003-conclusion of the series. But it was a little clunkily done. While also not surprising in the least – because if there’s anything I’ve learnt from reading every single Charlaine Harris book, ever – it’s that she does not like traditional pairings for her heroines. She likes to pull the rug out from under readers … she’s very much of the Louisa May Alcott school of ‘Professor Bhaer + Jo’ romancing, more so than the Team ‘Laurie + Jo’ thinking. Fair warning for anyone wanting to get stuck into her backlist books (which you totally should!) but she likes to serve her readers spoonfuls of salt with their happily-ever-after’s

So ‘All The Little Liars’ picks up where 2003 Aurora left off – married to Robin, and expecting a baby while also being guardian to her little half-brother.

The mystery in book nine, pivots around the disappearance of Aurora’s brother, Phillip, two of his friends and 11-year-old daughter to the local priest. The case was interesting enough – and certainly provided an opportunity to seamlessly revisit all of Roe’s family members and townsfolk friends (to rejig a few reader-memories, I’m sure). But it got a little boring.

Now, I’ve always been a big fan of how Charlaine Harris – in her cozy mysteries – actually teases out how boring and mundane violence and crime are, and she’ll often observe a whodunit over the course of, say, a week and really show how boots-on-the-ground grinding an investigation can be (interspersed with tense interactions and repercussions on the lives of those waiting for a culprit to be found). But this mystery was missing kids, and even if it’s not accurate, I felt like there should have been higher-levels of tension and panic from everyone involved.

I also struggled with this one because I wasn’t getting much from the Aurora/Robin relationship. I really liked Martin (though weirdly, in this book Roe makes quite a few throwaway comments about how overbearing and tricky he was as a husband?) … but Martin and Roe’s relationship was intense and hot, and a sexy harmonising to the gritty crime-of-the-week being explored. Robin, while more sedate and solid for Roe – is not so fiery and passionate as Martin, and therefore bought that balance of crime/family down a couple notches.

All in all this one was … a disappointment. I’m still here for the next book in the rebooted series, ‘Sleep Like a Baby’ coming September this year. But I’ll keep my expectations a little more in check.


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