Warning: there will be slight spoilers in this review for the last book. I will try not to spoil anything in this new book, though.
Just to get everyone up to speed: Harper Connelly sees dead people. Sort of. When she is close to a dead body, she can see how they died. Which makes visiting places like cemetaries and just about any historic place problematic. How’d she acquire this skill? Accidentally: it is the byproduct of being struck by lightning as a teenager. Harper speaks to dead people for their families, making a living for herself. Her stepbrother, Tolliver, is her manager, companion and bodyguard.
As I mentioned when I reviewed the first book (here), the two of them are scarred by the disasters of their youth: as much as the lightning strike has guided their professional lives, the personal tragedies and disasters of their family — drug addiction, neglect, abuse, poverty, and a disappeared/presumed dead sibling — have shaped them and continue to drive them as well. Although the reader never gets Tolliver’s POV, his dialogue and behavior seem to mirror Harper’s when it comes to their family obligations and baggage.
When I reviewed the second book of the series (here), I mentioned that Harris seemed to be taking the relationship between Harper and Tolliver to a place I did not want to follow. And she did in the third book, An Ice Cold Grave. I did not review that book, as I was ambivalent and rather squicked by it. My LibraryThing notes say, Vaguely squicked by the Harper-Tolliver relationship, despite repeated statements that not related. Family isn’t just about blood.
This fourth book picks up not long after the third ended. Harper and Tolliver are in Texarkana, checking out the grave of a wealthy man at the request of his grandchildren. He died alone on the ranch, and the stronger-willed granddaughter just wants to know, to be sure his death was natural. Well, the client gets more than she anticipated. First because she learns that someone threw a snake at him, which exacerbated his heart condition and ultimately led to his death alone out on the ranch. And second, because Harper reveals that a family employee died after giving birth rather than from appendicitis, which leads to questions about the hidden pregnancy and where the child may have gone.
After doing that reading, Harper and Tolliver head toward a suburb of Dallas, where their half sisters live with an aunt and uncle. They are scheduled to visit, and are also announcing their changed relationship. Meanwhile, Tolliver’s father has been released from prison and is trying to rebuild his relationship with his kids, whether they welcome him back into their lives or not.
While catching up with their family and taking a break from talking to the dead, Tolliver and Harper become magnet for violence. At the same time, out of the blue, there is a sighting of Cameron, Harper’s sister who disappeared more than ten years ago. And the Texarkana family resurfaces with questions about the reading. These all seem to be separate threads, but in the end, they are all tangled up in a single huge knot that Harper and Tolliver have to untangle.
Generally, Harris has a talent for characters who feel real, people with good points and bad, who are neither paragons nor devils. And while the mysteries of this series have not been complex, they were solidly written. Having said that, I found Grave Secret to be a disappointment. It felt phoned in. The Bad Guy was a caricature Eeeeevil Bad Guy all the way through. The connections of the different mysteries were too far fetched, and the resolution felt forced. It felt like Harris realized that it was time to wrap up some storylines, so she scrambled them all together. The ending was rather Scooby Doo-ish, with Bad Guy telling what he did and why and how and when because…well, I’m not sure why. Harper as a character irritated me a bit — she’s been painted as being very cautious and safety-conscious generally, but there were a couple of occasions when her behavior verged on TSTL. And there were a few scenes and/or characters who seemed completely extraneous; I couldn’t figure out what they contributed to the book, other than to be page filler.
Now that the overarching mystery that has existed through out the series has been resolved, and some of the family and relationship questions have been settled, I wonder if this is the last Harper Connelly book. I thought so, but someone mentioned (on a MB? Twitter?) that this was going to be a six book series.
Grade from me: C-
Lightning-struck sleuth Harper Connelly and her stepbrother Tolliver take a break from looking for the dead to visit the two little girls they both think of as sisters. But, as always happens when they travel to Texas, memories of their horrible childhood resurface.
To make matters worse, Tolliver learns from his older brother that their father is out of jail and trying to reestablish contact with other family members. Tolliver wants no part of the man- but he may not have a choice in the matter.
Soon, family secrets ensnare them both, as Harper finally discovers what happened to her missing sister, Cameron, so many years before.
And what she finds out will change her world forever.
Excerpt (Chapter 1) is available here.