In one of those wonderful coincidences that make up life, I came across Charlaine Harris for the first time about a month (or is it two?) ago when I went shopping with my sister. Shopping means thrift store hopping in our case, and it was in Myrorna that I browsed the paperbacks and saw a book from the "Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries". I was turning it in my hands when my sister noticed what I was doing and commented on the book, and that's how I found out that this is the basis of True Blood. I've been meaning to watch True Blood, especially since SVT started airing it from the start this autumn, but I missed the first episode and yada yada yada, I didn't. Anyway, I opted to not buy this paperback because I decided it wasn't worth 15 kr to me - not at that time anyway. (I'd found this pair of trousers, y'see.) I asked mys sister if they were any good these books, she hadn't read them so didn't know (I think) but had heard that they were "cute", so I thought about it but no.
Then the other week I was in the library and just by chance noticed a book lying in the wrong spot, and lo, it's another Charlaine Harris. Not that I remembered the author's name, I was just checking out the cover when I noticed. However this one was not a Sookie Stackhouse book, but a Harper Connelly. Also in the science fiction/fantasy realm though. Harper was struck by lightning in her youth, and got the ability to sense where dead people are, and also how they died. She now does this for a living. Grave Surprise is about how Harper participates in an experiment to see if she's a fraud, and finds a new dead body in an old grave. The body is that of a child that Harper and her brother Tolliver (!? that's some name folks) tried to find 18 months earlier and failed. So why has the child turned up now, in a different town and over a 200 year old coffin?
I started reading it and was pleasantly surprised first at how good the writing was, but another chapter or so in I had to amend that. It's not that good, really. It's a standard writing effort, nothing terribly exciting. You don't exactly lose yourself in the prose here. The thing that stuck with me most is that Harris writes you-all instead of y'all, something I've never seen before. Does this reflect some local dialect? However, there is a sudden bite sometimes in the story itself which I suspect is the root of Harris's success and the reason for True Blood's existence. Something darker, something real. In the Harper Connelly case it's hinted at in her and her brother's past, when they grew up with parents who used drugs - I'm thinking of a mention that her mother tried to sell Harper to a drug dealer. In the next series I've tried, the Lily Bard series, it's again a traumatic event in Lily's past that provides it, and some other things that I forget right now. I had it two hours ago. Sigh. Anyway, it's not much, but it's there. While the books themselves are formulaic to say the least (she has a fondness for men with long hair, I see), and her heroines are Mary Sues (God I love that expression), there is a definite undertone of an author who wants to SAY something. I just hope she gets better at it. Churning out books at the rate she is I don't reckon she gives herself time to - the woman is ludicrously productive. I mean, in the days of Patricia Wentworth you'd have to write a book by hand, send it off to be typed, re-read the proofs etc etc. Nowadays it must all be done in one go what with computers and all, so a productive writer can really be just that.
I'm going to write about the Bard series even though I haven't finished the books (because to be honest it doesn't matter that I haven't): I'm reading Shakespeare's Trollop and have also borrowed Shakespeare's Counselor. I just took 'em because they were there, and about five pages into ST I didn't think I'd even finish it - writing's a bit dull, like I said. But looks like I might after all. Lily Bard is a cleaning lady in a small Arkansas town called Shakespeare (Bard, Shakespeare - get it? Get it? YES WE DO) and also a bit of a karate expert (in my idea of a small town there is no room for a dojo, frankly, but there you go, and there's two, a taekwondo one too). Karate because of her past - kidnapped, raped and savagely knifed: never again, I take it. ST is about when Lily finds the town's bad girl, who is also one of her employers, dead in her car in the forest. SC is about Lily going into group therapy to face her past, until one of the group's members is murdered. I'm half skimming them, and if I ever come across one of her Sookie books I'll skim that too. Oh, bonus point for Charlaine - it's nice when writers stick to places they know, in this case the South. She is consistent, all the books are set in the South. I quite like that. Not that I like the reality of the South she is portraying, mind. But it's realistic, I suppose. It's clear from her books that the South is still a segregated society. There are few black people in the books, when they're there it's pointed out that they are black (not in a racist fashion at all, but still), and in ST the victim's stepfather makes it clear that he didn't like her sleeping around indiscreetly with "people of colour". But see that's what I like, it's not glossed over. It's not an overt social commentary either, but in the aside it says a lot.
Right, now off to bed for me. And I haven't linked so much in a blog post EVER.
Edited the next day: naturally the racist issue was more openly discussed in the book I hadn't read when I wrote the above. Just to punish me for my haste. SC tried a little more to touch on controversial subjects too. I'm also regretting calling all Harris's heroines Mary Sues. They have tendencies sure, but whereas a Mary Sue has an imaginary flaw Harris's ladies to have real ones, in my opinion. Now.