Friday, November 27, 2009

Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris

Harper Connelly is in touch with the dead. Ever since she was struck by Lightning as a teenager, she's been able to sense the presence of dead bodies and tell how they died. She and her adopted brother Tolliver travel the country, making a living by finding dead bodies.

Now they are on their way to Texas to visit their two half-sisters, Grace and Mariella, who were adopted by Harper's aunt Iona and her husband Henry. Harper and Tolliver have a fairly adversarial relationship with the two, but they were the only ones in the family able and willing to adopt the two girls.

On the way, they stop in Texarkana to do a job for a rich woman named Lizzie Joyce. Her grandfather was found dead by his car almost ten years ago, and she wants Harper to tell her why her father died. But first she tests Harper with other bodies in the family grave plot.

One of the other bodies, her grandfather's caretaker, proves to be a surprise, because the woman died from a hemmorage after giving birth. They are surprised, and accuse her of being wrong, but she was right about the other bodies, and she tells them that Lizzie's Grandfather dies of a heart attack when someone threw a snake at him.

While Harper knows that there will be no proof of the cause of Rich Joyce, but they can look into the death of his caregiver, Mirranda Parish. Lizzie Joyce looks intrigued and says that she will. And then Harper and Tolliver leave to go to Dallas and spend time with their sisters.

Harper has always wanted to live with her sisters, and now that she and Tolliver are together, she wants to adopt them. But Tolliver isn't sure that they should. He thinks they are being disruptive to their sister's lives with Ione and Henry. Harper is hurt, and when she realizes that Ione has been bad-mouthing her to her sisters, that really rankles.

Worse, Tolliver's father is out of jail, and wants to be in contact with them again- especially their sisters, but neither Tolliver nor Harper want to spend time with him. They are still too angry and traumatized by how their druggie parents neglected them. He pleads that he wants to do better, but neither really believe him. Tolliver's brother Mark seems to have a better opinion of their father, but both Harper and Tolliver want nothing to do with him- they don't even believe him.

While they are in Dalla, Lizzie Joyce calls them to find the name of a good private investigator, and Harper recommends her friend Victoria Flores. Shortly afterwards, Tolliver is shot in the shoulder, sending Harper into a tailspin as she struggles to be strong.

But who would want to shoot Tolliver? Harper has no idea, and when one of the detectives on the case suggests that it might have been her that the unknown shooter was aiming at, she ignores it. But when someone tries to shoot her a few nights later, and a detective takes the bullet for her, she has to face the distinct possibility that someone wants her dead for some reason.

But why? The Joyces were the last case that she took on- could it have something to do with either Rich Joyce or Mirranda Parish's death? And then another spectre from the past raises its head: Harper's sister Cameron disappeared not long after Harper was struck by lightning, and Harper and Tolliver have looked for her ever since. But what could have happened to her?

As Harper struggles to keep herself and her brother safe, she realizes that the two cases come together in an extraordinary way. But who will turn out to be the real culprit, and can Harper discover the truth before anyone else is hurt or killed? It's already too late to help Victoria, but who else will have to die?

Harper and Tolliver have finally found love with each other, and, of course, everyone in their family is shocked and horrified, believing it to be wrong or unnatural or "not right", even though their entire family is extremely disfunctional to begin with. But little do they know that the job for Lizzie Joyce will completely change the dynamics of the family.

It was nice to see Harper standing strong and tall on her own, and to finally solve the case of her sister's disappearance, which has been troubling her since the series began, but the end was really shocking, and I never suspected who the real culprit was. It was also nice to see the return of Manfred, and the fact that while Harper might be in love with Tolliver- she's still human, and she still looks. But as she acknowledges- as long as that's all she does, it doesn't make her a bad person.

I liked how Harper and Tolliver waded their way through their family problems and managed to connect with the few decent family members they have left. They've come to a conclusion about their sisters, and both are happy with the decision, and they have managed to finally solve the one mystery that has really driven and irked them both for years. Not without pain and cost. And it's a very high cost, but it seems that life for Harper and Tolliver will be at least somewhat less screwed up for them in the future.

This is a wonderful book, and it seems to be setting up something of a change in the series for the main characters. Nothing will be the same for them, but in a good way. I can't wait to read the next book. Highly recommended.

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