Friday, October 2, 2015

Sixth Grave on the Edge (Charley Davidson #6) by Darynda Jones

Charley and Reyes are moving closer – he’s even proposed to her, but there are still some obstacles getting in the way. She keeps trying to dig up his past despite his protests and he can’t keep standing by and watching her put her life in danger

A habit she continues when she gets involved with both a soul trading demon and a major organised crime cartel. Neither bring the people who love her peace of mind. And these are just the major challenges, the ongoing chaos of her life continues with commitments and adventures everywhere.

I am happy to be able to praise the immense fun of this book again. I think the last couple of books just got a little too extreme and pushed the zaniness a bit too far. It felt contrived and silly and destroyed a lot of the fun.

This book toned it down and worked a lot better with it. Charley and Cookie are back to being their extremely fun and freaky selves. They continue to bounce off each other excellently and Charley’s endlessly distracted asides are hilarious. Charley is just so much incredible fun even if I would completely understand if everyone around her would merrily strangle her in a minute. I can’t really think of a book series or a protagonist that is this consistently hilariously fun.

One downside of Charley being so hilariously, randomly, zanily fun is that it makes it hard to fully accept the fact that Charley is living with a lot of trauma. She has night terrors, she has anxiety, she has flashbacks. She’s actually an excellent example of a character who is dealing with PTSD after what she has suffered. And, in some ways, the zaniness does work with that- because having PTSD doesn’t mean you ca  never have fun or never enjoy life or never find anything funny again – I like the idea of presenting a character with a mental illness who doesn’t just BECOME that mental illness. But the overwhelming light funness of the story just turns her symptoms into another punch line.

The fun of Charley and her random nonsense makes this book. It made me enjoy it for start to finish, which, I have to say, is kind of more than what the plot line did. I’m not saying the plot was bad (and anything that let me enjoy more of Charley’s zany fun is a good thing), but there were too many plot lines and plot-ettes.

We have some minor mysteries, like what exactly the nature of the ghost in her living room is and we have Angel’s (the ghost who kind of works for her) family and we have the ghost that has taken up residence in her car. We have a deeply traumatised ghost and Charley trying to deal with that and the people who hurt her and were equally traumatised. All of these are nice little moments that ensure the daily life of Charley continues even when she’s involved in a mystery. But then we have the saga of getting Cookie and Uncle Bob together (which is elaborate and convoluted because it was one of Charley’s ideas so of course it is). Then we have the FBI agent and the historical case she wants Charley to look into which is also connected to Reyes. Then we have something going on with Charley’s dad and stepmother.

Then we have the actual main plot mystery of the week (which is kind of convoluted and complex anyway because Charley and involves organised crime and all sorts of stuff) and tucked behind that is a final nod to the growing meta-plot, the prophecy, the 12 (possibly two lots of 12) which may be good bad or hellhounds. There’s also Charley’s own growing role and developing powers and her understanding of what it even means to be a Reaper

This book is about 250 pages long and that’s a lot to pack into 250 pages. It works, it works because Charley and Cookie together are so much fun that it could be a book about them watching television or going to the gym or baking a cake or anything similarly mundane and it would still be hilarious fun because these two are hilarious fun. But they’re also extremely good friends and we have some really good moments, especially when they both discuss parenting Amber (Cookie’s daughter).

Related to Charley’s PTSD I also like that there is some addressing and challenging of Charley’s recklessness and selflessness. Recklessness is an obvious character flaw, but it links to her selflessness as well. Time and again we see Charley willing to risk it all for people she hardly knows or doesn’t know at all, which is all very noble and honourable but at the same time it’s ok to want to protect yourself, especially after what Charley and people who love Charley have been through. I’m glad to see people, even if it is Reyes, challenging Charley to not constantly put herself at risk to the despair of those who love her.

Time for me to make the same complaint I’ve made every book – I really really really don’t like Reyes. Yes, he has saved Charley’s life repeatedly, but saving her life doesn’t entitle him to act the way he does. Saving her doesn’t mean he then owns her. Saving her life doesn’t then entitle him to do whatever he wants with her.

Ok it has toned down a bit since earlier books – at very least the constant threats of violence from him against her has finally stopped. And we also have to acknowledge that Charley frequently runs into danger, in part, relying on Reyes to save her no matter what happens (or, in some cases, just not caring what the consequences are because she is Charley and planning is for other people). He continually makes decisions for her, acts in an extremely high handed manner and even tears down the wall between their apartments (between their bedrooms) so he can be with hr. Yes like everything else in this book it’s played for laughs, but

Of course, in the interest of fairness I have to say that Charley’s constant delving into Reyes’ past no matter how many times he tells her to leave it alone is also very intrusive. But the scale is different, she is nosy, he is controlling and his controlling comes after a habit of him repeatedly threatening her with violence to try and get her own way.

Charley is a fun female character and the relationship between her and Cookie and Cookie’s daughter Amber is excellent, as is her relationship with FBI agent Carson who, alas for her, has to deal with Charley’s hilarious randomness (and is clearly a saint since she hasn’t strangled Charley yet). In turn this makes the ex-friend of Charley’s who hangs around the bar and Charley’s step mother all the more glaring as cartoonish caricatures of evil womanhood. Ok, a lot about this book is cartoonish – but the women Charley hates are just overwhelming in their abhorrence.

In terms of POC we still have Reyes who I despise but not for any racial tropes and he is one of the main characters in the book. He is Latino though doesn’t have many cultural markers – but his best friend and their family is also Latino. We also have Garrett who is Black and a character I like a lot more (and another character who deserves a medal for not strangling Charley) though he does have his own family history with woo-woo which is just a tad stereotyped, albeit it isn’t a major part of his character. We also have some other POC scattered in extra roles – like Garrets co-workers.

We have some bit part gay characters as well – both Charley’s client for this book (who appears briefly at the beginning and end of the book) and a nameless man who goes on a date with Cookie to try and make Bob jealous (Charley’s plan is pretty much like all of Charley’s plans). They’re not inherently bad – but they’re not really present enough to be good or bad.

We continue to have Quentin the deaf psychic teenager who continues to be involved in the plot and with Amber, it’s interesting to have a disabled character who is presented as sexually attractive and desirable and to have plot lines and experiences that never gloss over his being deaf, but never make him being deaf the sole purpose of his existence either. While not a present character we also have the experience of Captain Eckhart’s sister – a disabled woman who was sexually assaulted and not believed by anyone because no-one ever thought that a popular, attractive man would want to have sex with a girl with downs syndrome. The way she is was treated was cruel and starkly described.

The presence of the Daeva also raises another interesting social conflict within the world’s own context. Demons are who created to be slaves there’s a lot of conflict between how Charley sees them and how Reyes sees them, their anger at Reyes coupled with his contempt of them is a nicely complex moment that manages to touch on social justice issues as a concept without directly appropriating. It’s neatly done.

In the end I really enjoyed this book but feel slightly frustrated because I think I could have enjoyed it more. Charley was a joy to read, she remains one of the most comic characters I’ve ever read and I could happily read endless books of her whacky hijinks and her oh-so-quirky mind. This book is just immense fun and that’s always a good thing

At the same time I think there were far too many little plot elements and side plots crammed into a short space, which led to a lot of them being pushed back to another book and not really going anywhere, the meta plot being neglected, again (will Charley please get some actual answers about what she is!) and a lot more things getting a lick and a promise rather than a full exploration. Less is more!