So ever since my decadent little re-read of Fire I've been in a reading slump. One foul doozy of a slump. I restlessly picked up and put down a handful of books, all of them full of potential, none of them able to hold my attention. Fortunately I'm still thinking clearly enough at this point to know it's me with the problem, not them. And I carefully set them aside on the nightstand to be picked up in a later, more amenable mood. But desperation was setting in and my family was starting to feel the effects. And then a friend saved the day by reminding me the new Harper Connelly book was out! The fourth installment in Charlaine Harris' "other" series, I'd been looking forward to the release of Grave Secret ever since finishing the excellent An Ice Cold Grave two years ago. Entirely different from her Sookie Stackhouse series, the Harper books are gritty mysteries with just a hint of the paranormal. I absolutely love them.
Harper and her stepbrother (and manager) Tolliver are on the road again. Having left the horrors of North Carolina behind them once and for all, they're headed to Texas to check in with their little sisters. With the disappearance of her sister Cameron eight years ago, their family dissolved. Harper went into foster care, Tolliver to live with his older brother Mark, and the little girls went to their Aunt Iona and Uncle Hank's in Texas. Over the years Harper and Tolliver made it a point to stay in touch with their siblings, despite their aunt and uncle's deep disapproval of their lifestyle and Harper's way of earning a living. This particular visit is unexpectedly prolonged when Tolliver's jailbird father is released from prison and shows up full of remorse and wanting to reconnect with his children. At the same time, Harper finds a few more dead people than she bargained for on her latest case, sending shock waves through the family of the deceased. As old memories threaten to overtake the careful peace these two have constructed, Harper and Tolliver find themselves caught between family, clients, and the law.
I sank back into this world as if no time at all had passed since my last visit. There's something about these two characters and the mature way they've gone about reclaiming their lives after the horror of their childhoods that just fills my empty spaces. Harper and Tolliver accept that they are all each other has in such a matter-of-fact way, with such stoic integrity, it pulls at my heartstrings. I read each book hoping nothing happens to them they won't be able to recover from, looking forward to each interaction, enjoying that tense, dark reality with which Harris surrounds her characters. Grave Secret lived up to expectations on more than one level. Harper and Tolliver's relationship never falters even as they find the truth about their past is even more heinous than they believed it to be. I found myself chanting, "Don't trust him, don't trust him" over and over throughout the book, on the edge of my seat worrying about them. I liked how Harper was forced to deal with some things alone in this one. I liked that Harris didn't ease up at all when it came to what actually went down in that trailer in Texarkana. This series has remained refreshingly consistent over the course of four books. And, despite the fact that several overarching plot threads are wrapped up in this volume, I would happily read as many books as she'd like to write about Harper and Tolliver. Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series is by far the more famous of the two, and I love it, but I find myself gravitating toward these more serious, quietly compelling mysteries. Highly recommended.