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Grave Surprise    by Charlaine Harris order for
Grave Surprise
by Charlaine Harris
Order:  USA  Can
Prime Crime, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Harper Connelly has an unusual gift. She not-so-willingly received this so-called gift in her fifteenth year when she was struck by lightning, and ever since that time she has had a singular ability. Although she insists (especially to those who either off-handedly dismiss or sneeringly ridicule her abilities) that she is not a psychic, precognate, or telepath, she unabashedly describes her ability this way: 'I find corpses.'

And so - because of her special gift - the irrepressible Harper (with her devoted stepbrother Tolliver in tow) is invited by a skeptical university professor to demonstrate her talents to a group of students and other curious observers. At the Tennessee cemetery, Harper - without any prior knowledge of the cemetery's absolutely permanent residents - showcases her ineffable intuitive abilities by identifying the buried bodies and explaining the causes of their deaths.

However, when she comes across the grave of a hapless fellow who died under questionable circumstances in 1858, she realizes that he is not alone down there. In fact, Harper is convinced that the hastily buried body of a murdered eleven year old girl lies atop the 19th century coffin. More significantly, she was buried there relatively recently. And so the mystery begins.

Authorities begin a reluctant investigation based on Harper's assertions, and what they begin to uncover makes Harper's discovery suspiciously coincidental. The buried girl, Tabitha Morgenstern, had been abducted from Nashville two years earlier, and - making everything an even more complicated puzzle - Harper had been involved in unsuccessfully helping the parents in their attempts to locate their missing child.

As Grave Surprise moves quickly along, authorities wonder about Harper's knowledge and involvement. Harper wonders about the university professor's knowledge and involvement. Authorities and Harper (and the ubiquitous Tolliver) wonder about the Morgenstern family's knowledge and involvement. And soon everyone is wondering about everyone else's knowledge and involvement. Harper finds herself on the trail of murder(s) - long past and rather recent - and soon finds her safety and emotions endangered by people with wretched secrets, misguided passions, and wicked loyalties.

Now, all you dedicated Charlaine Harris fans out there - please do not read the remainder of this review.

I am compelled to report that Grave Surprise reads like a Nancy Drew novel (complete with its tendency toward adolescent simplicity and vapid shallowness) that has been transparently spiced up with some gratuitously placed PG-13 language and some creepy atmosphere (derivative of Stephen King). I admit that Charlaine Harris writes with a perverse and straight-forward charm, and Grave Surprise may appeal to her many die-hard fans; as for myself, however, I would be reluctant to recommend this book to anyone other than those already committed fans.

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