Saturday, October 25, 2008

'Tis the Season Too!

Halloween has put me in the mood for mystery books! In the last week I’ve finished three! So I thought I would expand on Allison's previous Halloween mystery post.

Fiendish Deeds (A Joy of Spooking book) by P. J. Bracegirdle. Allison wrote a glowing review earlier this year. So I’ll leave you with what she said. But I will add that this was a smart and fun book. I enjoyed Joy’s character and her imagination. I loved the descriptions of the different towns: Spooking (an old, charming established community) and Darlington (cookie cutter, manufactured, boring city). Now, I live in a cookie cutter neighborhood where all the houses are variations on a theme. So I have nothing against that. I just really love old communities with their charm, history and quaintness. I think it would be fun to retire to a place like that, if they still exist by the time we retire. I really do hate established areas being bull-dozed for designer style, cookie cutter monstrosities. Okay, so I completely got off on a tangent there. Anyhoo, this book has some nice themes under the story. I look forward to the next two books in the series. You can learn more at the Joy of Spooking website.

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris: I’ve been seeing Harris’ name everywhere lately and for various reasons. Mostly for her Sookie Stackhouse series, which has been turned into the show True Blood on HBO. I’m not particularly into the vampire thing so I decided to try out some of her other series. She has four or five series that are all quite different from each other. Seems just about any mystery fan can find a Harris’ series to suit their tastes. Real Murders is the first book in her Aurora Teagarden series. Aurora is a young librarian in Lawrenceton, Georgia. She belongs to a club where the participants discuss historic and contemporary murder cases. Although the club is a little morbid, all the members find it interesting and each has their own specialty. Unfortunately, a member is murdered at one of their meetings in a copycat of a famous murder. Poor Aurora is the one who happens to find the body. This event starts a string of murders and attempted murders copying famous cases. It leaves the town of Lawrenceton on high alert and the members of Real Murders wondering whose next and what famous murder will be imitated. As with typical cozy mysteries, Aurora does happen to have two love interests but neither of these really get in the way of the story. It will be interesting to see how the love triangle plays out as the series goes on. I thought this was a really good mystery. It was not too predictable. I hate when I figure out who the murderer is early on. And I didn’t figure it out until Harris wanted me to. I’m not sure this is a “cozy” mystery (Allison, what is the definition of a cozy mystery? Does there have to be humor?). There was not much humor in this one. It was a tad bit darker than some other series I’ve tried. But I really enjoyed it and I kind of liked the “seriousness” of it. I will definitely read more in this series.

Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris: This is the second book in Harris’ Harper Connelly mystery series. I usually stand by my rule of starting with the first book of a series and reading them in order. However, I made an exception for this one. Grave Surprise was a bargain book calling out my name as I walked by. I checked out the description on the first one thinking I might buy that as well, but I liked the sound of this one better and it was cheaper. SO, there you go. Harper Connelly was struck by lightning when she was fifteen and her brother Tolliver saved her by performing CPR. Through this and growing up with a terrible childhood, the two formed quite a bond. As a result of the lightning strike, Harper now has the ability to “read” dead bodies. She can stand on a grave and know who the deceased is and how they died. She can touch a dead body and have a connection with them. She might “feel” their last moments or “hear” their last thoughts. In this way, she helps many dead bodies to rest peacefully by letting police know their locations or what really happened to them. Tolliver follows her along as her Manager. In this installment, Harper and Tolliver travel to Memphis to do a demonstration for a college class when she discovers a new body in an old grave. The body of a missing girl Harper tried to find two years prior. This discovery begins a whodunit story with Harper and Tolliver as prime suspects. I liked this book. And if I didn’t know it was the second in a series, it would have seemed like a stand-alone to me. I didn’t feel like I had missed out on anything. And now, I’m curious to read the first one to see how much Harris’ repeated in the second. This book was definitely a psychological drama. The entire book you’re learning about these characters and watching their reaction to the news of the body discovery and seeing their interaction with each other. You spend the whole book wondering which member of her family really did kill her. And I enjoyed the build up. BUT, the ending was a little flat to me. It seemed Harris’ just all of sudden decided she was done with this build up and revealed the killer and I thought the identity of the killer was sort of lame. I thought it might be someone else. And I thought the killer’s reasoning for killing the little girl was really lame. But I will read the first one and probably read the later books as well. One other thing that bothered me about the book was Harper and Tolliver’s relationship. It just seemed a bit weird to me. He actually is her stepbrother (his dad married her mom) and at one point Harper thinks she might sort of have feelings for him and then shakes it off. I felt like this was sort of unnecessary. But then again, this is a very psychological series so it does makes sense that Harris would delve deep into Harper’s mind.

In comparing these two series by Harris, the Aurora Teagarden series is much more on the cozy, light-hearted mystery side of things and the Harper Connelly series is much more serious, dark, and psychological with some paranormal activity thrown in. The Connelly series is much more like a ghost story, which I actually thought was well done and I liked it. I’ll read more in both series.


Matt and Allison Campbell said...

Generally, it's a cozy mystery if the sleuth is not a crime-solving professional (cop, forensics, private detective). They tend to be less graphic in violence and gore and less involved with police procedure. The sleuth is usually a woman in contemporary cozies, and they often use humor, but those aren't requirements. Sounds like Harris fits the bill, just a bit on the darker side than most contemporary cozies.

The Teagardens sound really cool. Her Lily Bard series is really dark for cozies, too.

allisonmariecat said...

Oops, logged on as the "other me" before :)

Lisa said...

I was completely creeped out by the relationship between Harper and Tolliver. I'll give the series one more shot, but if it continues that way I'll drop it. I much prefer Sookie.