Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet (Charley Davidson #4) by Darynda Jones

Charley, the zany, reckless grim reaper is hurting. After being kidnapped and tortured last book, she is not doing well and the trauma has prevented her leaving her apartment in weeks. She has ongoing conflicts with both Reyes and her father for the terrible way they’ve both treated her – she’s at one of her lowest points

She still has good friends to help and support her but what really drags her out of her secure home is a new case; a young woman has been stalked and tormented for years and Charley cannot sit back and let it continue, forcing her to confront her own issues in the process

And issues inevitably lead to Reyes, the son of Satan whose plots led to Charley being tortured in the first place.

In the last book, Charley was badly traumatised after being captured and tortured. One of the things that had characterised Charlie until this point is that she’s pretty much fearless to the point of reckless. She plunges her way into any situation with the merry confidence that she will get out the other side unscathed (which makes sense given her Reaper nature) all the while making witticisms and snark.

And now that little bubble is gone. She isn’t fearless any more. She has night terrors, she has agoraphobia, she panics easily and she is hording things, filling her apartment with things she’s buying trying to reassert control. She covers the stain caused by her torture with boxes and cannot stand to have it touched. It’s a really good depiction and also contrasts well with another character also suffering PTSD as part of the case Charley is investigating. What I really like there is that their symptoms are quite different which really shows how two people with the same condition can manifest them in very different ways

It is difficult to have a character deal with something as severe as Charley did and still respectfully deal with the aftermath of that while at the same time maintain the hallmark lightness and fun that really makes this series a joy to read. And I have to say it does actually manage it without clashing. We have a lot of light and fun depictions of the underlying pain in Charley’s life. So Cookie will snark about all of the ridiculous things Charley has bought and it will be hilarious, but underneath she and Charlie’s sister will recognise there’s a problem and Charley’s hurting. Or Charley will be unable to sleep because of a horrifying nightmare and do one of her classic dropping in at 3:00am visits to poor Garrett. It mixes together surprisingly well though at times it does feel like Charley can turn off her symptoms when they’re in the way.

Despite saying that, I also have to say this book tried too hard to be funny and silly and I felt the effort. Like she always named her breasts – Danger and Will Robinson, but now she’s naming random furniture, her head, her kidneys and just about anything else around her? Stop – this is trying too hard, don’t force the zaniness. Forced zaniness isn’t funny. There’s still plenty of fun there but now and then we just cross the line and it feels tiresome.

There’s also the blight of Reyes. Oh how I hate Reyes, oh how I have always hated Reyes. I don’t care how epicly epicly epicly legendarily hot he is (and oh how we are told how hot he is over and over and over again) and I don’t care how many times he’s saved Charley’s life and I don’t care how much he loves her – he still regularly threatens her and her loved ones, has kidnapped her, has used her as bait and is generally a terrible person that Charlie should shun. She gets mad with him – just as she gets angry with her father (and I love that she doesn’t instantly forgive her father for the crap he’s pulled on her but even then, her father’s forgiveness comes not because he earned it but from a completely-predictable cancer scare) but she continually melts and forgives him time after time. I’ll accept that she may have to work with him because of the meta-plot of demons wanting to take over the world etc; but enough with the forgiveness and the he’s-so-hot relationship. Honestly I completely loathe this character and it’s largely because of Charley’s endless forgiveness of him.

I did like that she billed him though. That was awesome.

There was also a plot twist at the end of the book concerning the main case Charley was working. Looking back I can see how it worked but it was still more confusing than surprising and I’m not sure it appreciably added much to the plot itself except as a last minute dash of tragedy. There’s also a side plot that has been pushed into the book involving bank robbery and another involving arson (linked to Reyes’s over the top and unnecessarily tragic past) which just feel completely out of place and kind of rammed in. Like the book was finished and the author realised she was way below her word count.

The book continues to have some excellent female friendships – Charley and Cookie are the stuff of legends, I love them, every word they exchange. I like that Charley’s sister has also been added to the mix as a supportive, loving addition and the fact she’s a therapist as well also helps. I also kind of love dead Aunt Lil.

There’s also some added diversity in minor roles. We have a Deaf character appearing at the beginning of the book, he remains in the background but it’s a nice touch that Charley’s Reaper ability to understand any language also applies to sign language. Pari, a minor character we’ve seen before who can see the dead (albeit not as well as Charley) is revealed to be bisexual in a rather bemusing (and classically Charley Davidson) date scene though her relationship with another woman lasts less than half a book.  They’re not major characters but they’re there (I’ll give it a nod but not much more).

There are multiple POC – Reyes is a major character and latino. Angel is a more minor character and also latino and with some cultural markers to go along with him. Garrett, who she loves to bother at 3:00am and generally be a complete nuisance to is Black (there’s also a minor, nameless Black bar tender working for her father but she’s not exactly a character).

This book has a lot of the elements of this series I love – all the fun and zaniness. It has the awesome characters (except Reyes, who I hate), it has the fascinating and weird world, it has the powerful friendships. It’s added some minor characters to improve it’s very lacking diversity (of course, minor characters don’t make it perfect but it’s a step in the right direction) and it has explored some of the major issues in Charley’s life in a respectful way… and I really really really want to give it a high fang rating. I really do. But the plot itself, the actual investigation in this book, is just a bit lacking, with a twist that isn’t all that twisty and a lot of time spent not actually investigating it and getting side tracked. The meta-pursuit itself seems more involved in Charlie developing new super powers and her being forced together with Reyes yet again. I’m disappointed because I want to love the book as much as I love the characters in it.