Monday, February 06, 2012

"First Grave on the Right" by Darynda Jones-- ADD in Book Form

Charlotte "Charley" Davidson is twenty-seven year old P.I. who also happens to be a grim reaper. She lives between the planes of the living and the dead and escorts the dead to the hereafter. Charley doesn't know if she is "the" grim reaper because there has never been anyone around to show her the ropes-- how she even knows she should be called a grim reaper is a question that is never even answered, but I'll get back to that later.

Charley has been conversing with the dead since childhood and her abilities have been very useful for her father, a retired cop, and her uncle, who still works as a detective for the Albuquerque Police Department. Charley works as a consultant for the APD and that allows her to tie up lose ends for ghosts looking to avenge their own murders. First Grave on the Right takes up the story of three murdered lawyers who were close to exonerating a man convicted of murder.

But the motive for the murder of the three lawyers isn't the only mystery Charley is trying to solve. Charley has been receiving midnight visits from a very sexy entity that may also be the creature she calls the "Big Bad" who has been protecting her, in a very scary fashion, her whole life.

Darynda Jones opens each chapter of "First Grave on the Right" with a quote from a bumper-sticker or a T-shirt and they frequently reference the ADD of the main character; and Charley does exhibit some attention deficit traits-- but none so strong as the author herself. Overall the story arc of Charley Davidson is a good one. The action in "Fist Grave on the Right" makes sense in that it follows a logical narrative instead of having Charley bounce from place-to-place for no apparent reason. The murder mystery that comprises the bulk of the story is also better-than-average because it doesn't take any great leaps in logic to buy into it.

The flaws in "First Grave to the Right" aren't about the story-- it's about how it's told. First off, Charley isn't just sarcastic-- she's a nonstop, joke-a-minute machine. There are times when the jokes are funny, but the gag is so overused that after a while I found myself rolling my eyes as often as I was chuckling. There is no inappropriate time to crack wise in Charley's world. The narrative tends to be as rapid fire as the jokes-- to the detriment of the structure and flow of the story. Characters are often jumbled together with overlapping dialog that makes it tough to understand who is saying what. Jones also has a tendency to "tell" rather than "show" in a way that really distracts from the story-- for example:

Price stood and picked up the camera. His stance was meant as a threat, meant to belittle and intimidate.

We're told that the character has a stance that is intimidating, but his posture is never described-- We're basically meant to take Charley's word for it and that doesn't work because a reader needs to be able to visualize the setting and writing like this makes it awfully hard.

Mostly "First Grave on the Right" suffers because there isn't enough attention to detail. There is the suggestion that Charley came to call herself the grim reaper for a reason and I expected that to play out as the book progressed-- only it didn't. How Charley came to think of herself as the grim reaper, or realize that she is meant to usher souls to their next life is never really clarified. If anything that whole part of the story gets more muddled as the story goes along and it's later revealed that Charley doesn't really know the extent of her abilities-- to which I say to the author, make up your mind or get a better editor.

Another frustrating thing about "First Grave on the Right" is the romantic interest. Charley has basically had a guardian angel, of sorts, showing up her whole life at significant moments and frequently saving her life (she almost gets killed a lot). Despite those life-saving moments Charley refers to him as the "Big Bad" because his heroic moments also tend to be fairly violent. But when Charley suspects the Big Bad might also be the entity who is visiting her in her sleep, and producing some very vivid sexual encounters, she doesn't waste too much time worrying about his violent nature. There's also a scene in which Charley is threatened in a sexual manner, supposedly to scare her into leaving a dangerous situation, and it's shrugged off as being a normal way of persuading a girl to do something-- a strange message to send in my opinion.

The crazy thing is that despite all the flaws, and there were a lot, I still managed to enjoy the book. Usually when I can pick apart a book to this extent I stop reading it (which is why I don't have a lot of one or two star reviews) but somehow I was entertained enough to finish this one and actually consider reading the next book in the series-- how do you rate something like that? Do I give it two stars for execution and four stars for enjoyment value and give it an average of a three star review? And can I possibly recommend something that I can criticize so much?

Honestly I don't think I can give "First Grave on the Right" a recommendation or a strong rating because it should have never gotten to print in such a sloppy manner. There are some fun aspects of the story and a lot of interesting ideas but I can't overlook the overall construction. Interestingly this book has garnered a lot of positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads among paranormal fans, so I suppose I could recommend it to people who don't really give a darn about things like logic-- and apparently there are a lot of people who fit into that category. But for the audience of this site (whom I believe are more discerning *pats self on back*) I can only give this 2 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Blodeuedd said...

Lol, I fear I fit into that non-logical category then ;)

SQT said...

Oops! Hope I didn't offend.

The thing is, I liked it too in a way. And if the grim reaper aspect had been explained more I could have given it a better rating. My frustration was warring with my enjoyment the whole time.

Isa said...

I've liked very much your review. I've just finished this book and have a strange feeling. I like it, it's funny and I read it very fast, I wanted to know more. But, at the same time, I didn't like it. Too many things taken for granted, very few details in the crime investigation, no explanation at all about her "powers", her love for such a violent entity...
Anyway, I want to read the second one. Am I too contradictory? :)