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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

'Grave Secret' Harper Connelly #4 by Charlaine HARRIS

From the BLURB:

Lightning-struck sleuth Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver take a break from looking for the dead to visit the two little girls they both think of as sisters. But, as always happens when they travel to Texas, memories of their horrible childhood resurface.

To make matters worse, Tolliver learns from his older brother that their father is out of jail and trying to reestablish contact with other family members. Tolliver wants no part of the man- but he may not have a choice in the matter.

Soon, family secrets ensnare them both, as Harper finally discovers what happened to her missing sister, Cameron, so many years before.

And what she finds out will change her world forever.

This is the 4th and (according to Charlaine) last book in the Harper Connelly series. It’s sad going into ‘Grave Secret’ knowing it will be the last time we journey with this wonderful character. But, as they say, all good things must come to an end.

‘Grave Secret’ is a bit of a hodge-podge of a novel. On the one hand, Harper and Tolliver are dealing with very serious circumstances in the present as a case Harper is working on takes a curious and dangerous turn. On the other hand, an anonymous call brings up their past as someone claims to have seen Harper’s missing sister, Cameron, at a local shopping centre. The book is split between current events, while also backtracking through Harper and Tolliver’s troubled childhood and the events surrounding Cameron’s disappearance eight years ago.

It is interesting to delve into Harper and Tolliver’s past. Harper has confided little bits and pieces about her past in the previous three books, but not to the extent in ‘Grave Secret’.

Harper and Tolliver are not related by blood; Harper’s mother and Tolliver’s father found one another and got married right when they were both at the bottom of their respective bottles – both Laurel (Harper’s mum) and Matthew (Tolliver’s dad) were junkies. They sold drugs from the trailer where Harper and her sister Cameron, and Tolliver and his brother Mark were living with them.

Most of Charlaine’s female protagonists have bleak pasts (with the exception of Aurora Teagarden) – but Harper has the worst of them all. Her stepfather would frequently pass her off to the highest bidder in exchange for pills, and she was the primary caregiver when her little sisters were born. Then she was struck by lightening and dealing with the physical side effects as well as the supernatural ones. Harper is a warrior, and Harris’s austere description of her and Tolliver’s past is chilling, but an amazing indictment of their character. Charlaine Harris seems to be really fascinated by how people’s pasts can affect their future and their personalities. She favours female leads who have overcome great personal tragedy, and been made stronger for it. This is very much true of Harper, and at several points in the book she quietly muses about how she and Tolliver ended up ‘okay’ despite their childhoods and genetics. Putting aside her ability to locate dead bodies, Harper is a fascinating character for her past alone. She is a strong, hard-working woman and in ‘Grave Secret’ you really appreciate all that she had to overcome to get that way.

People who meet me in my line of work fall into three categories; those who wouldn’t believe me if I produced an affidavit signed by God, those who are open to the idea that there are strange things in this world that they might encounter (the “Hamlet” people, I call them), and the people who absolutely believe I can do what I do – and furthermore, the love that connection I have with the dead.

For three books now, Harper has been making mention of her sister’s disappearance 8 years ago. Harper has never suspected her sister was anything other than dead, and has been keeping her feelers out for any ‘buzz’ of Cameron’s bones ever since she went missing. For three books readers have been as anxious to know Cameron’s fate as Harper herself – even more so after a huge foreshadowing in ‘An Ice Cold Grave’. Fans can be assured that this issue is laid to rest. But be warned – it is a tricky and convoluted explanation that is made somewhat hollow for its loopy plot.

I wasn’t terribly satisfied with ‘Grave Secret’. Knowing that it was the last ever book in the series, I expected great things. But I don’t think Charlaine delivered, much as it pains me to admit.
The novels big mystery is hastily wrapped up, and in a manner that I absolutely detest in murder-mysteries; the villain explaining their reasoning and execution of their devious plans while still in the process of completing them. Urgh. Having read her other novels, I can assure you that this is Harris’s sloppiest wrap-up ever, and it’s a shame because the build-up beforehand was perfectly suspenseful.
I was also disappointed with the progression of Harper’s new romance. I love this couple (not going to say who, that would be a MASSIVE spoiler) and I wanted a few more cutesy moments (like we got in ‘An Ice Cold Grave’).
All in all I think ‘An Ice Cold Grave’ was a far more satisfying book and I would have preferred that that be the final book in the Harper Connelly series.

Once again, having read Harris’s other books, I can assure you (and warn you) that even when Charlaine is concluding a series, she doesn’t like to tie things up neatly, but prefers to leave a certain open-endedness for her characters. That is once again the case with ‘Harper Connelly’. The open-endedness isn’t a frustrating cliff-hanger, just potential for more. And after reading and being disappointed by ‘Grave Secret’, I really, really hope that Harris relents and writes one more, just to redeem the series.


1 comment:

  1. I love your reviews! I think this will be the series I try next for Ms. Harris. Thanks!


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