An Ice Cold Grave (Harper Connelly #3)
First published in: 2007
This edition: Berkley Prime Crime 2008
Genre: crime, supernatural
Cover illustration by David Hollenback; design by Judith Lagerman
When I finished the second book in the Harper Connelly series, I was convinced of its worth, and made sure I had books 3 and 4 available to me before the end of 2010. In December, I read the third, most interesting book in the series: AN ICE COLD GRAVE.
AN ICE COLD GRAVE brings Harper – who has the unusual ability to find dead bodies ever since she was struck by lightning – and her step-brother-slash-manager to Doraville, North-Carolina – which our sleuth quickly realizes is the scene of a horrible set of crimes. Contacted to find the body of one missing teenaged boy, Harper instead finds a group of them, buried in the ground, covered by a thick layer of snow. These boys were subjected to unspeakable violence and abuse prior to their horrid murders. Harper, who's generally used to this kind of thing, is deeply affected by the case, and just wants to get away from Doraville as soon as possible. Away from the inevitable media frenzy, away from the dreadful knowledge of what has happened to these boys.
The third instalment is the most intense one for multiple reasons, the first obviously being the crimes committed. Harris describes a case so horrible (teen-aged boys tortured, raped and murdered), you can't help but flip page after page to find out if, and how, the killer is caught. It's a suspenseful plot, and Harris makes sure you're affected (e.g. horrified) by it as much as Harper is, and thus as a reader very driven to see the person responsible for these crimes caught. Reading about AN ICE COLD GRAVE's case is very much like watching an episode of Criminal Minds – and as that show is one of my favorites, this comparison is a good thing, in my opinion. But that also could mean that AN ICE COLD GRAVE's case and its details could be too much for some of you readers. I guess it just depends on what you're used to in movies, tv and other media, and how much you can bear to have put into images, in your mind.
The book is generally more graphic, in its descriptions of both violence and sex, than other books in the series or maybe even in the genre. I wasn't, as evident from the former paragraph, particularly bothered by the graphic descriptions of violence in AN ICE COLD GRAVE; I believe it makes the book stronger than its predecessors.
However, I do feel the sexual descriptions are a bit too blunt and thus awkward as a result. I cringed a lot, basically, because the sex scenes are so directly written, it's almost (secondhand-embarrassingly) amateur. There's no sensuality in these scenes, there's no real eroticism; Harris just describes what's being… performed instead of what the people involved feel. Harris mentions often how very "pleasing" it all is, but it just… BLEGH. It's just not good. It's not erotic to just spell out what's being done to whom and how and which areas of the body were involved. Charlaine's writing is hardly pornographic (pssssh, no, it's just a bit of sex here and there), but comparisons to porn do come to mind (sorry Charlaine…) because things are "demonstrated" rather than truly erotic – much like the sex scenes in this book. Not that I watch porn. Not that there's anything wrong with watching porn, but I prefer not to, not do I like reading anything which reminds me of porn.
…ANYWAY. Enough about porn already, Karin. (Geez.) AWKWARD.
The Harper Connelly series is already darker and less upbeat in atmosphere than a lot of other series (or the Sookie Stackhouse novels); AN ICE COLD GRAVE takes the cake, though, being the darkest one in the series so far. The setting of a wintery cold Doraville only adds to the haunting mood of the book.
Another reason why AN ICE COLD GRAVE is the most captivating installment yet, is that it focuses the most out of any of the series' books on Harper's relationship with Tolliver, a relationship which changes significantly in this installment. Harris succeeds in making them even more likable; Harper especially seems more vulnerable, open and even happy in this book. She's much more accessible to the reader now and we want her to find closure, happiness.
While the case in ICE COLD GRAVE can carry the book just fine on its own, it is nice to see Manfred and Xylda Bernardo again, although it is obvious that Manfred (who never backs away from an opportunity to flirt with Harper) is brought back as a device to get Harper and (a very jealous) Tolliver closer together. Nonetheless, it is pleasant to have some more familiar faces around; it takes away a little from the "case-by-case", procedural feel this series does have.
Out of the three books in the series, so far AN ICE COLD GRAVE is the easiest to get into and the hardest to put down. Darker, edgier and more personal, this is the best installment of the Harper Connelly series yet.
– Darker, edgier – most atmospheric of the series
– Reader becomes very invested in solving the case; most entertaining of the series
– More personal; Harper and Tolliver are shaped characters now, more open, accessible
– Other familiar characters return
– Most gruesome case yet; though I liked this, I can imagine you might find it too violent, too graphic
– Sex scenes too descriptive and thus awkward to read; they are not sensual or erotic.