‘Eleventh Grave in Moonlight’ brings back solid characters

Eleventh Grave

Fantasy is one of my favorite genres (which you may have guessed if you’ve read more than one of my reviews). A subset of urban fantasy described as paranormal romance, I think of it as brain candy: light, not at all intellectually nourishing and delicious.

Paranormal romance does, at times contain darker themes and scenes that would get it an “R” rating if it were made into a film, for both sex and violence. However, the overall writing style, plots and themes generally avoid intense character development and introspection. The Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones is firmly in this subgenre.

A writer who is unceasingly witty, inserting puns, sarcasm and outright wackiness wherever she can, Jones has created a wonderful alternative universe full of ghosts, demons and gods. Fans of Charlaine Harris, Jeanine Frost and Ilona Andrews would enjoy this series.

The heroine, Charley, is the Grim Reaper, among other things. Her powers and mythological attributes accumulate throughout the series, to her surprise and dismay.

She’s also a private investigator and helps out her Uncle Bob, a detective, solve murders. It is easy enough when you can ask the ghost of the murdered party who killed them.

Charley is a great character. She is funny, sarcastic and acerbic, but not always the smartest one in the room. Jones has written Charley a great sidekick, Cookie, her best friend, assistant and neighbor. Other characters include a ghost who writes the names of the dead on the walls of an abandoned asylum, various hot bad-ish guys, various hot good-ish guys and Reyes, Satan’s son with whom Charley has explicit amorous encounters.

One issue I have with this series is a common one for paranormal romance: there’s always someone unimaginably wealthy in the lead’s proximity that can help them out of any pinch, fly them where they need to go and set them up in style.

An interview with Patricia Briggs (author of the fantastic Mercy Thompson series set in the Tri-Cities) with Jean Marie Ward of BuzzyMag.com, discussed attributing power to characters.

Briggs noted that when a character has seemingly limitless power, there is less at stake. In this case, she is referring to political power (within the structure of a werewolf pack) and magical power, but the power of wealth falls into this trap as well.

When the characters have less at risk, the story is not as compelling for the reader. For Charley, her wealthy benefactor is Reyes. A few books back in the series, it was revealed that he is quite wealthy, and Charley receives many of the benefits of that wealth.

Her striving for success in her P.I. business, as well as day to day concerns, become far less pressing with Reyes’ financial assistance. “Eleventh Grave” is not the best volume in this series. As the title indicates, it is the 11th, but many books up until this point have been quite funny and engaging.

This felt like the tying up of loose ends from previous books, with a few subplots and an
absence of the amusing side characters that brought the depth and variety that made the other books entertaining. Charley is usually working on a case unconnected to her personal drama and related in unexpected ways to either other cases or other subplots.

In this, her only client is tied to Reyes, and a threat to Cookie’s daughter is linked to Charley’s longtime nemesis. The interrelatedness of the plots made the book, oddly, too Charley-centric.

Yet, it was lacking her usual antics interacting with ghosts, adventuring out on her own making foolish decisions and harassing her favorite FBI agent on speed-dial, antics that made the other books so entertaining. Perhaps it was her focusing on her own problems, rather than solving those of her clients that made it tedious.

I am looking forward to the next in the series, “The Trouble with the Twelfth Grave,” with a projected publication date of October, but I have plenty of fantasy to fill the time.

Rose Peacock is a library technician at Cook Memorial Library.

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