Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris

Grave Secret
Charlaine Harris

This is a series that falls more into the “mystery” genre (and that’s where it’s shelved), but there are paranormal overtones. Harper Connelly, the protagonist was struck by lightening as a child and after that, she’s been able to sense the dead – at least when she’s in close proximity to their bodies. She can also tell how someone died. With her step-brother Tolliver Lang, Harper has used her ability as a unique way to earn money – finding bodies and identifying the cause of death for her clients.

Read an excerpt of Chapter 1 of Grave Secret here

I’ve been reading this series for a while now, and at four books, I think it may be done, at least for the foreseeable future. Grave Secret came out in September 2009, and there hasn’t been news of another book yet. Here are my reviews for the first three books in this series:

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

The Premise: Harper and Tolliver decided to visit their younger sisters Mariella and Gracie who live with their aunt and uncle in Dallas. Along the way to Dallas, they take a job identifying what killed the grandfather and patriarch of the wealthy Joyce family, and Harper discovers some things that the Joyce’s are not happy to hear. Then Tolliver and Harper discover that Tolliver’s father Matthew was recently released from prison and is trying to renew ties with his children. Then someone begins shooting at Harper and Tolliver. Somehow all of this is connected and their past is involved. Memories and questions about the abduction of Harper’s older sister Cameron resurface.

******* Minor spoilers for earlier books from this point on ********

My Thoughts: Like the other books in this series, Harper and Tolliver are presented as not really sleuths, but people who keep getting targeted by people with something to hide or found out news they didn’t want to hear.  In this book, someone keeps shooting at them. Something happens which forces them to stay in the area, and to stay alive, they have to re-examine the past few days and find out who wants to kill them. I think that this is sort of a standard Harper Connelly mystery, with a bunch of deaths before we find out what is really going on. It’s a little unsatisfying that so many people die before the bad guys are caught, but this seems to be how it goes in these books.

I’ve commented on this before: I find Harper to be a hard character sometimes. The book is told from her point of view, and how she sees people feels colored by lenses that first look for what’s wrong in others. I don’t think this is an obvious thing, but when you read half a book and meet several characters you notice that Harper isn’t one who tends to like someone at first sight and what she says about people is often unflattering. I think this is something I can only take in small doses, but, this is all part of her character. Harper’s mom and Tolliver’s dad were drug addicts and dragged their children from a regular family life to one of despair and poverty. In this book when Matthew Lang, Tolliver’s father shows up, the dark childhood that Harper experienced was rehashed, and I could see why Harper took a jaded view of people. It was pretty bad. I think Harper and Tolliver have the appropriate, healthy response to their father. I wouldn’t forgive or trust him either. On the other hand, we also get to see more of the rest of Harper’s family and Harper learns to appreciate her Aunt and Uncle, who adopted her sisters, but Harper has always had a little friction with, as well as their other siblings. There seemed to be a better understanding all around by the time the book was done.

In the meantime, their sister Cameron’s abduction is brought up again. That mystery is one brought up from the very beginning of the series, and Harper has mentioned details of the day Cameron disappeared in other books. This story does get wrapped up here, which is why I think that this is probably the final book of the series. There’s also a resolution here in terms of Harper’s relationship with her family, and in terms of her relationship with Tolliver. I still maintain that I feel uneasy about their relationship. I know that they’re not blood related. They’re only step-siblings. I think it bothers me because Harper keeps calling him her brother. Not step-brother. Brother. She introduces him as such, even after they become lovers, and then reminds herself she has to stop thinking of him as her brother. Ew? I’m also not exactly sure how long they lived together as siblings. I’d feel better if it wasn’t long, but we’re not really reminded. It feels like the author is deliberately pushing the ick-boundaries on purpose by doing these things. The reaction of other characters who find out about them feels like a backhanded way of telling the reader not to judge, but I find it hard when the narrative seems to intentionally push my buttons.

Overall: I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand I feel satisfied by the way the long-running story arc of Cameron’s abduction and of Harper and Tolliver’s relationship were dealt with in this book, but on the other, I wasn’t as satisfied by the other mystery. It felt sort of overly-complicated and forced to fit with the Cameron storyline with some senseless killings thrown in. The mystery didn’t feel as strong as the previous books -and the big reveal felt rushed and convenient. I also felt like I was being emotionally played with in terms of the ick factor in the main relationship, which bothered me.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Karissa’s Reading Review – positive review
Angieville – positive review (Harper and Tolliver accept that they are all each other has in such a matter-of-fact way, with such stoic integrity, it pulls at my heartstrings”)
Ellz reads – similar comments to mine about the mystery here but satisfied by how the series ended
jmc_bookrelated – “phoned in”. A C- grade
lindseyfrankin “3-3/5 stars for a solid end to a good mystery series”
Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin’ News and reviews – not really a review but a commentary that I found aligned with some of my complaints

3 thoughts on “Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris

  1. I read somewhere that this was the last book in the series, and it did wrap up all loose ends, IIRC.

    To me, Charlaine Harris’ books (except possibly the early Sookie ones) have this underlying grimy, depressing kind of tone – the storytelling is there, but they don’t leave me feeling particularly uplifted or happy. And the Sookie ones are heading that way too.


    • That’s interesting.. I only read the first Sookie Stackhouse and plan to read more. I just got more into this series because there was something in Harper’s grim outlook and her relationship with Tolliver that I liked. Unfortunately it didn’t work as well in this one for me. Maybe the missing ingredient was the mystery. It felt rushed in this one. I’m going to have to read more Sookie to see if I agree that there’s an underlying depressing tone in the writing. Huh, maybe it’s not just Harper.

  2. I am commenting very late, but thought I would say that the relationship really was something I couldn’t get past in this series! The rest of it wasn’t enough to make that not an issue!

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