Monday, February 6, 2012

The Harper Connelly Series, by Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris is a busy little literary bee!  Probably best known for her True Blood series, Harris is also the author of several smaller runs of books, such as the Harper Connelly stories: Grave Sight, Grave Surprise, An Ice Cold Grave, and Grave Secret.  I spent my weekend with Harper, and found that lightning didn’t just strike once for Harris (and those who know the books will get that joke), but rather, the ability to write solid series of books is a skill she holds firmly in her wheelhouse.

The Harper Connelly series follows Harper and her brother across the country while they make a living off of Harper’s unique skill.  Ever since she was a teenage, Harper has been able to ‘hear’ dead people.  Well, it’s not so much hear, as sense.  Harper is able to locate bodies (from ancient to modern origins), tell you who they were, and what they died from.  Harper makes her living giving families closer at gravesides by confirming COD, or by searching for missing people/bodies.  While Harper is the skills of the operation, she’s assisted by her step-brother Tolliver, who acts as her manager and caregiver.  (Hey, communing with the dead is draining on a girl!)

I’m finding there are two enjoyable characteristics that run through all of Harris’ works.  The first is an ingrained sense of humour.  It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s a satirical and tongue-in-cheek kind of funny.  It’s dry and witty, and incredibly enjoyable to someone of a similar sensibility.  The second recurring pattern to Harris’ works is the supernatural and macabre which are the basis of her works.  True, there were no vampires or shifters in the Harper books, but there were plenty of dead people, souls, psychics, and one ghost.  Harris’ ability to make these seemingly impossible creatures (to us skeptics, at least) seem possible and, better, plausible, is fabulous, and it shows her strength as an author.

On this series in particular: There was one aspect that left me a little rocky after the first book, and unsure if I would like the rest.  That aspect is the relationship between Harper and Tolliver.  In the first book, it seemed forced and awkward.  It makes the reading of the book uncomfortable, and it seemed like Harris had made a major misstep in the creation of her characters.  There is a resolution to that dynamic, so I encourage you to stick with it and push through.

I think the true brilliance of the Harper run of books, however, is the arching of the over-all story.  These books are a self-contained quartet that could easily be expanded into a larger run of books should Harris ever decide to re-visit her characters.  But, unlike a shorter series of books such as the Twilight novel, where Stephanie Myers clearly had no idea where she was heading when she started writing, Harris’ Harper books are well thought out and have a narrative continuity that is incredibly satisfying.  While there are four separate stories, all four books read as a single entity.  This is a well executed exercises in forward planning for which Harris should be commended, and authors like Myers should take note.

The final verdict?  Read these books!  They’re pretty short, and you can get through the entire run pretty quickly.  Once you’re done with these, read True Blood, because Harris is just that good of an author.  I have no doubt that I’ll be going out to read the other, smaller series of books that Harris has written.  Her characters, style, and narratives are all strong enough for me to want to live in Harris’ literary world when possible.

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