Review for An Ice Cold Grave, by Charlaine Harris

Jam packed with spoilers!

Harper can sense the dead; it gives her an odd job, where she travels the eastern half of the US, helping people locate their dead and/or telling them how those dead passed away.

In this third book, Harper and Tolliver head to Doraville in January to find a missing boy. Instead, they find eight, who were gruesomely tortured and killed by a pair of sociopaths. And they sleep together.

Yeah, wait, what?

I feel like the author tried to push too many envelopes at once here, going for graphic child murders and near-incest all in one short book. Were we not supposed to notice the squickiness of Tolliver's and Harper's sex scenes (yes, plural) because we were distracted by the horrific assaults on eight young teen boys?

Again, the character of Harper is the only POV we get. I think that really hampered the plot of this book, because it made Harper have to do all the work herself. The last half of the book is, again, H&T trying to leave town, but being restrained by the authorities. Into that situation, add Harper's odd desire to wander among the book's settings, revisiting places she's already been or characters she's already seen. Some of these scenes actually had use. But were the others a smoke screen? I can think of two entire scenes where nothing was learned or accomplished aside from noticing that the plot was starting to drag.

I did appreciate the plot not being overly formulaic in regards to who the killers were. I was treated to an overload of uncertainty on Harper's part, combined with a lot of details that might or might not mean a thing. Together, that completely muddied the waters. But again, the last few dozen pages of the book felt rather aimless.

Harper's character again can't get past her past, to make a bad pun. She constantly bemoans her past home life with Tolliver and their other sibs, and how she needs to use the gift that the lightning gave her before it goes away again. She comes across as unable to focus on her present situation (despite what happens with Tolliver) and defensive about her job, whereas in book one, she seemed quite all right to let it be what it was.

The sexual encounters with Tolliver were abrupt and creepy. There was very little lead-up at all. After all the work that the author put into making their relationship half-business, half-sibling, this switch to romantic love feels as abrupt as having someone flick on a lightswitch when you're trying to light some mood candles. Utter failure. Previous sexual encounters in the series occurred off-screen, but here, we're treated to some very enthusiastic foreplay on a few different occasions. It feels like the author has been building to this scene for three books, yet failed entirely to remember the emotional side of her characters. They apparently think about each other safely in their heads, in a "but he's been my brother for decades!" sort of way. Then they have their first tryst. Then they decide, oh, now we'll just tell everyone we're a couple. Never mind that they'd built their reputation as a brother-and-sister team! I can't imagine they'll get many clients whose family trees branch after this. After all the poking fun at hillbillies Harper did in book one, it seems disingenuous to take these familial characters to this place in their relationship.

On that first tryst: I see that as a major plot failure. Not for what they did, but for what they weren't doing. Before that, they'd headed out to a location where they met a young boy who told Harper to come back and find him soon. He didn't have time to say any more. Harper and Tolliver are chased away, but instead of seeking a way to locate the boy to see what he wanted, they go back to their cabin and screw like rabbits. While they're doing this, the poor boy is committing suicide. It's never explicitly mentioned, but that's the timeline, and it's just one more creepy part about this book. Afterward, it's clear that the boy needed to die for the plot to progress, but "let's have a not-really-siblings love fest" is about the worst plot device I can think of to distract the reader while that happens.

The writing was filled with repetition, in concepts revisited and in overexplained ideas and actions. The voice of Harper is distinct, but while it is constant throughout the book, it's depressing and remote, and caught up in its own replaying reel. It's like listening to Rousseau's distress signal on the LOST island for sixteen years, and about as interesting.

I don't even want to know what happens in the next book; this one was just too creepy and disturbing. 2 of 5 stars.

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