Thursday, January 28

Grave Secret - Charlaine Harris

Harper Connelly's life is pretty much as good as it gets - she's happy in her relationship with her step-brother and manager, Tolliver, her younger half-sisters seem happy with their legal guardians even if her aunt Iona can't stand the sight of her, and her latest job is with one of Texas's wealthiest families - though her discovery that the housekeeper died shortly after childbirth rather than ruptured appendix, and that the patron (whose cause of death was what she was hired to find) died when a snake was thrown at him, seem to come as an unpleasant shock, the family pays up. Plus the ranch is close to her home town of Texarcana, which means Harper and Tolliver can visit their little sisters, Gracie and Maricella
But Harper's adult life has always been overshadowed by the disappearance of her beloved sister Cameron, a loss more significant than the trauma of alcoholic, abusive and neglectful parents.
When Tolliver's father, Matthew, reappears after nine years in jail, reporting that he's clean, sober and wanting to reconnect with his children, Harper doesn't buy it. She watches in disbelief as Tolliver's older brother Mark takes Matthew in, and she fears than Tolliver will also bite. Had it not been for the care she and her siblings took of each other, neither Gracie or Maricella would have survived their childhoods, and she can't understand how a man she knows so well could forgive him.

Though the job plays a pivotal role in the plot, Grave Secret is primarily about Cameron's disappearance. It's the single defining event of Harper's life, and its resolution is stunning. It's also an indicator of Harris' skill, because the interweaving of the facts of Cameron's disappearance with the other plot elements (including Harper and Tolliver's relationship, her evolving relationship with the aunt and uncle who've taken in her half sisters, her attitudes toward her parents and step-father, the cases of the dead housekeeper and patriarch and, of course, the reappearance of Matthew and the puzzzling behaviour of Mark) is seamless.
Though they both centre around strong women who have a unique gift and troubled childhoods, this series is very different from the Sookie novels, and I've come to enjoy it more. I eagerly await the release of the next Harper novel, and am intrigued by how the aftermath will play out and the possibilities of where Harris will take Harper, now that the driving mystery of her life has been resolved. There's enough back story for Grave Secret to stand alone, but the conclusion is significantly more satisfying four books in. - Alex

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