Ugh. Just... Ugh. I am beginning to think that the more I read of Charlaine Harris, the less I like her. This was just... bad. And creepy. Poorly written, weak plot, cardboard cut-out characters, creepy relationships and creepy romance, and trademark Charlaine Harris character name and detail errors all in one book.
I don't even know where to begin... I guess I could just write a list, like our heroine, who Charlaine describes as a list-maker with little opportunity, first does 26 pages from the end of the book. You'd think, in a mystery, that a list writer would probably, maybe, keep a list while she's running around tracking down all those clues. Guess not. More likely, Charlaine (hereafter known as "CH") just wanted to rehash everything and wrote in a "personality trait" to do so.
Speaking of personality, oh lordy me. Were there any personalities in this book? From ANYONE? Harper was just about as boring and cold and unlikeable a character as I've ever read. Why anyone would want to read an entire series about her is beyond me. Tolliver, her brother, is essentially an assistant/care-giver/babysitter/bodyguard to Harper, and besides being a womanizer, he's boring and uninteresting. Hollis is the Haunted Small-Town Cop™. Sybil is the Cold Rich Widow™. Mary Nell is the Teen Cheerleader (With Jealous Teen Admirer) Who Is Lovestruck for Mysterious Older Man™. There is nobody, at all, in this book that was even remotely interesting or unique.
Harper's relationship with her 'brother' is super creepy. SUPER. CREEPY. Even if Harper and Tolliver aren't blood related, their relationship is just... disturbing. Harper is almost totally and completely dependent on Tolliver. She's jealous of his conquests, and he of hers, although neither come right out and say so, but their ONLY disagreements with each other were over the other half making the beast with two backs with some "outsider". They talk about buying a house together, and Harper talks about the possibility of Tolliver marrying, and fleetingly thinks of that for herself, but she seems very reluctant to think about that, and the thought of Tolliver committing himself to someone besides her seems to give her anxiety.
Harper's parents were well-to-do who didn't do too well, and became alcohol and drug dependent and neglected the kids, but that's OK because the kids had each other... mostly. Apparently, this, along with Harper's injury, the one which caused her ability to sense the dead, are where her co-dependence on her brother stems from, but I don't get it. OK, right, you're struck by lightning. Sure, you'd be afraid of storms afterward. Logical. What is not logical is sheer panic when your "lifeline" brother is out of your line of sight for any length of time without a suitable male stand-in. OMG noes! HOW will you copez?!1? Harper and Tolliver seem more like exes who realized that they love each other but are better as friends but who don't really want to let go either. He called her "baby" and "honey", and, sorry, but if my brother ever called me that I'd be really, really grossed out. Harper is even described as having her stomach clench when Tolliver "sweet talks" someone else. CREEPY.
Then, there's the "back story" that CH probably should start hinting at if she wants to drag this out into another too-long series... This includes Harper Family Mystery and Drama. There's the Parental Situation I mentioned above, for starters. Then there's one missing and presumed dead sister that Harper is very clinically detached and cold (aka "avoiding false hope") about, but determined to find, at least her body, and two other sisters raised by Tolliver's religious and manipulative aunt to despise Tolliver and Harper both for reasons unknown. I'm sure that will come out somewhere in book 8 or 9. Stick with it. All in all, there was just no... substance there. It was like the details were thrown in because they had to be, not because they were the characters' actual histories. Sorry Charlaine, you need to know your characters before any reader can. Giving her a gimp leg and some superficial insecurities along with saying that her hobbies include reading and nail-painting isn't characterization. Nor is giving someone acne scars and then saying that he likes really smooth skinned women probably because of that.
Harper's thing with Hollis is another kind of creepy in itself. I really have to wonder what kind of publisher would read this and say, "Yes! This is what we've been waiting to publish!!". We have either a way, way too close brother and sister relationship or a way dysfunctional couple-night stand relationship with extremely-recently-widowed young cop. Hmm... Neither one is exactly steaming up THESE windows.
The story takes place in very late October/early November. Hollis's wife Sally died sometime after February. That's eight months. He gets all almost choked up when he talks about her, and he says he loved her, and even hired Harper to tell him some info about how she died. OK... not creepy so far. Then Hollis and Harper do the nasty. Strange, but not unheard of. Then, during the course of the "investigation", this appears: (There are Sally death spoilers!)
"I'm sorry," I said, making a great effort. "I know this is dredging up stuff for you that you're trying to put behind you."
"No, I'm not trying to put Sally behind me," he said. "But I am trying to think about the rest of my life. And the ideas of the last few days, the idea that Sally was murdered, that the son of a bitch who did it has been walking around this town, talking to me, free, has been curdling my gut. And the fact that every time I see you, I want to screw you so bad it hurts. You practically break into my house, my damn house, and I want to fuck you right here on the floor."
Then they did.
WHAT?!? You go from talking about your DEAD LESS THAN 8 MONTHS WIFE to screwing some new girl in TWO SENTENCES?? It was described as "short and violent and the most exciting encounter Harper had ever experienced." CREEPY.
I almost closed the book right there. That was just... too much. But I was curious about the mystery. I wanted to know. I finished it. I want my two days back. There's absolutely, positively no way that I will be reading any more of this series. It's also unlikely that I'll be reading anything else CH's written. It's sad, because I quite liked the first few books of the Sookie Stackhouse series, but now I'm even doubting myself on that.
Don't read this. It's BAD. Did I mention it was creepy too?