Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Second Grave on the Left (Charley Davidson #2) by Darynda Jones

Charley Davidson is the Grimm Reaper, the portal through which the dead can reach Heaven. She’s also a private investigator and when her best friend reports one of her friends has gone missing under worrying circumstances, she has to get on the case. A string of murders lead to a long buried past

One case would be enough to handle but there’s also Reyes, Charley’s mysterious and dangerous love interest – also the son of Satan. He’s hurt, he’s dying and Charley will find him in time –whether he wants her to or not.

This book should be silly. It should be ridiculous. I should be rolling my eyes. But I’m not doing any of those things because I’m laughing and smiling so much. Charley is simply hilarious and even if her character is snarking away at some of the most bizarre times, it still works. It shouldn’t, but it does.

For a while I just put this down to writing style and was willing to completely ignore the shattering of anything resembling common sense or the simple fact that absolutely no-one would act this way simply because it was funny enough for me to not care about realism. But reading through this I realise this is actually part of Charley’s character development – it’s mentioned almost in passing that she wasn’t afraid of things even as a child and that she generally doesn’t feel much fear either due to what she is (the Grim Reaper) or due to what she’s seen (as the Grim Reaper) which means her endless snark works. She isn’t cowering or worried because she genuinely isn’t afraid, has seen worse and it doesn’t come close to suppressing her sense of fun.

Which is what Charley is – immense fun. She’s sarcastic, witty, confident and skilled. She’s good at what she does, she knows she is and she’s quite happy to amuse herself along the way and she does (and me) immensely. Her character interactions in general are excellent, but especially with her best friend Cookie. I honestly think they have one of the best friendships I’ve seen in the genre, I think I could read a whole book of them doing nothing but drinking coffee and bantering back and forth

Does this levity always work? No, I’m afraid, though I always enjoy it. But there are at times, especially given the severity of the cases they’re working, when it seems badly out of place even while I’m laughing.

But Charley is more than just fun, at least. She is good at her job, she does care and while she may be very light hearted, she does get angry and hurt in this book – especially form her family; because she does care. Her father and her uncle both, for separate reasons, treat her appallingly and she doesn’t downplay that slightly. She also recognises and snarkily challenges paternalistic sexism aimed at her from these men, and their protestations of love and protection are not enough for her to instantly forgive them – even if her grudge is expressed through constant (awesome) snark. She also has, as I mentioned, an excellent relationship with Cookie (who is also extremely capable and funny) and a growing one with her sister. There are women who are less impressive, but they are countered by numerous good female characters.

The one relationship of Charley’s I can’t run with, unfortunately, is with Reyes. And since he’s the love interest and the core of one of the storylines, that’s a problem. Most of the time he’s violent for a purpose – but he’s brutal and threatening quite beyond that – and isn’t above using those threats towards Charley. He declares a lot of love for her, but she hasn’t actually spent a lot of time with him – most of his interactions re before she was born (it’s complicated) or watching her from a distance. I just wasn’t entirely sold on the idea that I should want this character to get closer to Charley. Or care if he lives or dies beyond the fact that he has dangerous woo-woo that is worrisome.

While the characterisation, the fun and Charley are the gold of this book, there’s plenty of other good as well – including the investigation (which actually involves skill and work rather than just woo-woo which I appreciate) and the world building that is rather blown open from its minor beginning. This just got a lot broader and with a whole lot more potential. But there’s also smaller elements I like – like how Charley helps souls move on when they want to, we had a very sweet moving scene with one that shows how important Charley’s role is.

Diversitywise, Reyes is Latino and Garrett (an investigator on the know who seems to be growing into a major part of Charley’s story) is Black. After Charley and Cookie these are probably the most major characters in the book. Some ominous black-suited agents are led by an Asian man who manages to be more fun than ominous. We have Reyes’s sister who only appears briefly but is good while she’s there – and some friends of Reyes who are, again, brief but fun appearances. Together with several other background characters we have a fair scattering of racial diversity both in the main cast and in the background (I think it matters to have both – the single POC sidekick in an all White world looks more like a gratuitous insertion than attempted inclusion).

There is a gay man in the story – but he only shows up for a couple of pages at the end of the story, refers to his “lifestyle” and is deeply closeted. It’s not a bad representation – it makes the point that if he isn’t closeted homophobia would destroy his career – but he’s only a brief moment of inclusion for an extra twist to the story.

As may have been guessed, this book is immense fun. But under the fun, the snark, the laughter, there’s a strong story there with an excellent main character and some pretty good inclusion – and a world that begs for more delving. Definitely a good read and a series to follow