Thursday, February 12, 2015

Third Grave Dead Ahead (Charley Davidson #3) by Darynda Jones

Charley isn’t sleeping – and because she’s a Grim Reaper, she’s managed to get by without sleep for 15 days, all an attempt to avoid Reyes in her dreams. Of course, a sleep deprived Charley isn’t exactly  healthy or reasonably Charley – and no amount of sleep deprivation will stop Reyes escaping and approaching her in real life. He’s broken out of prison to find his step-father – the man he was thrown in prison for murdering. He’s alive, he’s out there and Reyes intends to clear his name

Of course Charley has a busy life and in addition to tackling Reyes and his handy-knife-wielding, she has a missing doctor’s wife (and a suspicious doctor) and an animal loving motorcycle gang to deal with. Also, her dad wants her to quit her job.

A lot of the elements I love about this series are very much present in this book. Charley is fun, immensely, incredibly fun. She’s ridiculously silly, she will wisecrack about anything and for some reason it doesn’t annoy me. I’d theorised in the last book that her super-healing combined with her lack of fear of death was part of the reason why she was so irreverent and reckless – but I recognise I may be stretching to try and justify an unrealistic element of a book I just find so fun. So, yes, it may not make sense, but it’s excellent. Almost as excellent as the way she bounces of Cookie – the Banter between these two best friends is hilarious and I could honestly read an entire book that just involves her and Cookie going about their day, solving a case without any supernatural elements at all.

Yes, it does get ridiculous at times – like when she is literally being threatened with death and even tortured (though through that we do get a much darker feel so the comedy doesn’t continue forever) and her comedic sleep deprivation and driving was off the mark – with zero sense of the risk that poses to others.

I liked each of the storylines – and we had three separate ones in this book. Charley looking for her client’s missing wife (which also had excellent portrayals of the different forms an abusive, controlling relationship can take), clearing Reyes’s name (which was probably the weakest investigation because it, ultimately, relied on the perpetrator trying to kill Charley which is always a rather weak investigative tool) and a brief, but fun interaction with Charley and the biker gang and the acquisition of her new guardian. I liked all of these stories individually – but collectively the story was left a little distracted – too many things going on which is then mixed with Charley’s book-long sleep deprivation means the book often loses focus and there’s a few times when I forgot an actual plot line was ongoing.

A far greater problem for me is Reyes. The oh-so-very-very-very sexy love interest. And I don’t care – I don’t care how sexy he is or if he has a body beyond all concept of beauty, he has crossed so many lines now that I cringe every time he appears. In this book he takes Charley hostage at knife point, he threatens her family, her hurts her, kidnaps her and is generally irredeemable. And Charley doesn’t see it – she continues to make excuses for him and mentally justify his actions and seems to think that “he’s ruthless and will do whatever he needs” is some kind of excuse rather than a great big warning flag that he needs to be dropped yesterday. Worse, his endless sexiness (and the fact that Charley can’t even sleep because of the lure of his sexy sexy body) becomes more cringeworthy because it feels like Charley is tolerating this completely intolerable abuser not because of fear or even a moral drive for justice even if he’s evil – but because he’s just that hot.

Thankfully towards the end of the book Charley does realise that Reyes has finally crossed a line into unforgiveable territory (or, rather, he crosses yet ANOTHER line) and she ends angry with him. This leaves me hoping that that anger lasts more than 10 minutes in the next book, but I suspect it won’t.

Still, one element I do like is Charley finally confronting the way most of the men in her life treat her time and time again. They rely on her abilities, are quite willing to use her abilities to their own advantage – but at the same time don’t trust her skills or competence enough to give her all the information they need even while they use her or put her at risk for their own ends. At times, like her father in the last book, this comes with the twist of both putting Charley at risk for their own agenda and then deciding not to tell her anything for her own “protection.” It really does an excellent job of showing how ridiculous the whole “protective” idea is – because it’s not about protection, it’s about control and trust. It’s about making Charley’s (or any woman for that matter) decisions for her and making use of her without having to deal with her own opinions or wishes.

There are some prominent POC in the book – Reyes, his family and his friends are Latino and they are much better characters than he is; caring, kind, brave and funny. Garrett is a Black man who is probably the most constant presence- albeit not a close presence or even a friendly presence – in Charley’s life outside of Cookie. I’m hoping that the events of this book give Garrett more push to be more closely involved with Charley but I doubt it. Generally he’s an excellent character. This is also one of those books that has racial diversity among the supporting cast – not a lot, but that character Charley checks for leads, for example, has a good chance of being a POC. There are no LGBT characters in this book. There are a number of skilled and capable women as well as some excellent insights and challenges into how Charley is treated by her male friends and relatives as well as the controlling domestic abuse storyline

I think I’m left with a strong feeling that this is a transition novel and like several transitional novels it doesn’t quite get it right – this wanted to get Reyes out of prison and Charley set up to be more about her Grim Reaperness than anything else. So this is what we got – lots of extra elements pushed into a decent plot to try and move the meta and instead left it a little cluttered. I’m hoping it’s more down to the transition than anything else.