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R&R 111 | Grave Surprise (Harper Connelly 2)

Charlaine Harris
Grave Surprise (Harper Connelly #2)
First published in: 2006
This edition: Berkley Prime Crime Mass Market (Penguin), 2007
ISBN: 978-0-425-21470-1
Genre: mystery, crime, series
Pages: 295
Cover design by Judith Lagerman; cover art by David Hollenbach


(Sorry 'bout the slightly creepy photos I'm taking for this series.)

Once I got all my ducks in a row regarding GRAVE SIGHT, the first part of the series by Charlaine Harris featuring Harper Connelly, I pretty much immediately started reading the second book: GRAVE SURPRISE, which I hoped would impress me a lot more than its predecessor.

GRAVE SURPRISE brings Harper Connelly and her step-brother Tolliver Lang to Memphis: a college professor in occult studies is daring Harper to demonstrate her skills to his entire class by bringing her to an ancient cemetary. Harper's skills? Well, how about connecting with and locating the dead and being able, upon being with a dead body, to see their final moments and thus cause of death. Yeah, that's something. Sounds unbelievable.
But Professor Nunley and his class are all in for a shock: not only does Harper prove her worth, she also finds a body. Not too odd in a cemetery, one would say – except this body is relatively new. Also, the remains are found in someone else's grave… and most likely belong to abduction victim Tabitha Morgenstern, the very eleven year-old girl Harper was hired to (but failed to) locate a year and a half ago.
A tense situation arises, as one would expect when a child is the victim of gruesome murder – but it gets all the worse when another body is located, in the same grave where Tabitha's remains were found.

The story sounded good before I started it, and it turns out that it is: GRAVE SURPRISE has definitely made me more enthusiastic about the Harper Connelly series.

The first thing I noticed about GRAVE SURPRISE is that it's thicker: there are more pages, the text is more densely printed. With more pages in this case also comes more detail; GRAVE SURPRISE allows for more information, more room for plot development.
My main complaint with the first novel GRAVE SIGHT was that it seemed to be searching, still – a typical introduction novel, still not fully planned out and developed. GRAVE SURPRISE helps the series find its footing: the reader finds themselves settling into Harper's story.

This is mostly attributed to the reader getting to know Harper better; I found as I was flipping pages that she's really starting to grow on me. Whereas I first took her to be a little cold, and very cynical, I'm warming up to Harper. And actually find myself caring about her and Tolliver, curious what happens to them next. It took a while for me to get there (with Sookie Stackhouse, I felt instantly drawn to her as a reader – she's just so charming!) but I'm there. It helps that Harper shares more personal feelings, insecurities included; she's not cold, instead she's just rather weary and careful. She's tired. Harris definitely paints a better picture of her heroine; I feel Harris has better control over her characters and the series in general now, with the second novel.

Whereas I commented in my review of the first book that I wouldn't like a relationship between Harper and Tolliver to develop because that's the obvious direction to head into (and I like unpredictability), after finishing GRAVE SURPRISE I can't help but change my mind. Harper and Tolliver are so well developed by this point that the reader can't deny their history, their mutual regard / understanding and their desires for the future (to buy a house together, have a home life).
The more you read about these two, the more you realize that they didn't so much become step brother and sister when their parents married one and other: instead their relationship was one of partnership, as they basically became their younger siblings' surrogate parents. They tried to make a home for them. This bond between them remains. A relationship, at first obvious, now seems like the next (and last) logical step. I hope Harris continues to explore this.

Ha. See how my opinion just went and did a complete 180? That's what development and character building can do. I love it that Harris has worked out her characters further and thus managed to change my opinion around quite a bit on some themes of this series. Heck, she changed my opinion about the series in general. I'm glad. I'm relieved.

I thought at first more supporting characters would be good, but I take that back: it wouldn't be a bad thing to have more characters in this series, but it's not necessary. Harper and Tolliver do carry the story just fine on their own. I'd almost much rather get to know the duo (and their family) much better. (Nonetheless, I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of a few of the very colorful characters that were introduced in GRAVE SURPRISE, yet: Xylda Bernardo, a bona fide psychic, and her grandson Manfred. I would welcome this.)

I hope the subsequent novels will also dig deeper into the mystery of Harper's sister's (Cameron) disappearance. There was more information and back story about her disappearance in GRAVE SURPRISE; Cameron's disappearance definitely serves as a "main mystery" for the entire series, while allowing an individual mystery for each separate installment. This set-up works, especially because Harris is a pretty good mystery writer. While I could hazard a guess at the who in 'whodunit', I was never sure how it all would unravel. It's not too obvious, but it's cleanly written and developed enough to make sense when you do find out what happened, and why. It clicks.

If there's one thing that bothers me a lot, it's when I notice an editor is being sloppy. An error in grammar here and there isn't the end of the world. But literal repeats?
"We've found, by trial and error, that sugar really helps me…" (page 25) followed by "'Come on, you have to have some sugar', he said. He was right. We'd found that out, by trial and error." (page 131).
See? Unnecessary. This sometimes happened in GRAVE SIGHT as well, but I attributed that to it being a first book; I was willing to overlook it. But when I see it happen more consistently within a series, well, that just irritates me a little.

Ah, I know I'm just being nitpicky. It's how I roll at times. Forgive me.

Anyway, to wrap it up: I kind of figured I would need to give the series a chance by at least reading the second book, and I'm glad I did. Part of my insistence to continue on to book two was because of my faith in Harris as an imaginative author; the other part was that GRAVE SIGHT's concept was good, but something was lacking. I hoped to find that something in GRAVE SURPRISE, and I have. Not only is my opinion more clearly formed, it is also a lot more favorable. I see tons more potential in the Harper Connelly series and its main characters.

I'm at that point you know a series is good: when you finish a book in the series and feel regret at not having the next book handy so you can continue the series immediately. Ah.

I'll be ordering both books 3 (AN ICE COLD GRAVE) and 4 (GRAVE SECRET) before the year is over.

Karin Elizabeth
  • couldn't agree more! this book was so much better than grave sight!

    I'm in the middle reading an ice cold grave and let me tell you… it gets even better! I already order book 4.

    Next I'm going for her Lily Bard series (I've been curious for this one since the characters made an appearance in the Sookie novels). PS, Did you know there is an edition of the 5 novels in 1? I was so excited when I saw that 🙂

    December 10, 2010 at 7:10 am

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