[ Book Review ] In which the Grim Reaper gets stalked and likes it

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Audiobook read by Lorelei King

Who is Charley Davidson, age 27? University and Peace Corp Graduate. Private investigator. Police consultant. Caffeine addict. Smart-alec. The Grim Reaper.

Within the first few pages, the story shoves her headlong into a murder investigation and into her pro-bono business of helping the dead cross over. All the while Charley seeks to uncover the mystery of the spectral creature that haunts her dreams — and sometimes, her waking hours. And have I mentioned she’s The Grim Reaper, the one and only in the entire world?

I was looking for something to wash down my last review, and you’d think I’d have gone straight to the Pulitzer section — but this audiobook was available for instant, online download through my library. Some chick flick lit. Why not?

The premise is silly. Of course, it’s silly. But that’s part of the attraction. I was sold within the first few pages when the main character is woken out of a sound romantic dream by a call from the police, only to find a dead man standing over her.

Yes. Okay, I’m sold. Keep it coming, Ms. Jones.

Plus, there was the cover and the very positive association of the show, “Dead Like Me.”

However, as I read on and the novelty wore off, I found my enthusiasm waning. The story tries too hard, both in the number of characters and parallel plots that it attempts to develop, and in its headlong rush to sketch Charley out as an intelligent, haunted, smart-ass, humorously sarcastic, earnest heroine. Instead, she comes across as immature, capricious, unreasonable, and some fifteen years younger than her age of 27.

“God, all this sounds so awful when I say it out loud,” I complained. “I whine more than a Goth with a blogging fetish. It’s really not that bad. I actually grew up rather happy. I had lots of friends. They were mostly dead, but still.”

Yes, yes you really do whine a lot, Charley.

“But, Uncle Bob,” I said, whining like a child who’d just been told she couldn’t have a pony for her birthday. Or a Porsche.

No, you really do.

“Fine,” I said in a huff. Not that I couldn’t handle Garrett. I just wanted to complain.

Even as the internal narrative — the book is written in first person — tries too much to be clever, the plethora of asides and juxtapositioned phrases becomes exhausting. And that’s a damn shame, because a little less and I might have loved our snappy narrator.

At the same time, the brisk (if overstressed) pacing of the story heels and rolls over into purple cosmic descriptions every time our main character sees (or locks lips) with her love interest. In truth, I was rather intrigued at how the narrator’s saucy quips would dissolve into larger-than-life grand metaphors (cue my convulsions of choked laughter while driving home) whenever romance swept into the story.

The audiobook reading of Lorelei King did not work for me either. With a smile in her voice and an odd pattern of stress and emphasis, it gave the sarcastic grumblings the oddest feel.  I thought that I, as I usually do, would settle into this voice within a couple chapters, but the combination of voice and prose irked me to the end. In looking up the written version for quotes, I was startled to see that the written prose did not bother me as much as it did when I read it. At the same time, I can’t seem to blame King; she’s not a bad reader.

I initially thought my discomfort — and my convulsions — were due to the simple fact that this is my first romance reading. Let’s face it; romances are notoriously over-the-top. But I followed it up with an Amanda Quick book to check, and the reader (Mary Peiffer) does a lovely job there. (Review coming soon.)

All that said, I keep coming back to the one fact that makes all other elements frosting on this lavender-flavored care. I don’t recall the last time I was so disgusted with a protagonist. A little less of her “wit”, and I might have loved our snappy narrator. (Of course and as always, your mileage may vary.)

Tangent: And yes, as per rule number 281 of all romances, she has several men falling over each other where she’s concerned, including the immortal so-

Whoops, that would have been a spoiler, ruining the only element that got me genuinely curious. But you will throw your hands up in the air when that mystery unravels.

The story does seem to realize that Charley has issues. Annoying issues. But its attempts to win some sympathy points and push Charley into some emotional growth often feel contrived. I’d have rather these lengthy discussions had been channeled towards streamlining the plots and secondary characters into the story’s weave. For me, the story skimped in all the wrong places in making a sensitive badass out of Charley, and went overboard where it should have grabbed a pair of pruners.

And while I will not be getting the second book of the series (Second Grave on the Left), if she continues writing, Darynda Jones is certainly someone to keep an eye on. In a couple years and a few more books, she should be a force to reckon with in the paranormal romance market.

Despite my low rating, I would recommend her to readers who’ve enjoyed books by Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, Patricia Briggs, and Jenna Black.

 

(Disclaimer: I later tried the eBook version, and…it was a whole lot more fun. Similarly, I tried this audiobook reader for a few other books, and it was a lot less annoying. Maybe it’s just a bad combo here.)

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3 thoughts on “[ Book Review ] In which the Grim Reaper gets stalked and likes it

  1. Pingback: This Week’s Mine Shaft « thecanaryreview

  2. Pingback: [ Book Review ] Come visit Second Grave on the Left–and get a FREE audiobook! « thecanaryreview

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