Book Review: Third Grave Dead Ahead by Darynda Jones (Charley Davidson #3)

March 12, 2012 § 4 Comments

The fact that author Darynda Jones lives right here in New Mexico and that I’ve met her and that she is totally cool has nothing to do with the rave review I’m about to give her latest book, Third Grave Dead Ahead. The rave review has to do with the fact that this book, the third in the Charley Davidson series, is like being reunited with your best friend and the rest of the zany gang after months of separation. I loved books one and two, First Grave on the Right and Second Grave on the Left, but this one is my favorite so far. Not just because the cover is pretty and red and the heroine is wearing Converse sneakers, as any self-respecting grim reaper-slash-private investigator would wear. But also because Charley, the shining beacon for the departed to pass through to the other side, is in ballsy top form. Her red-hot relationship with Reyes gets more dangerous, the action takes more twists and turns than Charley and her Jeep Misery can crash into, and Charley (figuratively) goes through hell and back, yet maintains her essence and zest for life.

Being a grim reaper, Charley can talk to spirits, particularly murder victims who contact her hoping she can catch the bastard that did them in. The otherworldly intel gives her a distinct edge in her profession as a P.I., not to mention the ability to assist her uncle Bob, a detective in the Albuquerque Police Department. The down side of her reaper status is that it makes her the target of some pretty nasty characters. In Third Grave, Charley is trying to stay awake, twenty-four seven. She does not want to fall asleep, because every time she does, Reyes is there. The Son of Satan is pissed as hell and has a little more than seduction on his mind. Reyes had been sent to prison ten years ago for murdering a man. The man who raised him, the man who abused and tortured him as a child. Now, Reyes is convinced the monster is still alive, and wants Charley to find him. As if that’s not enough to keep her busy, a doctor reeking of guilt asks Charley to find his missing wife, Charley’s dad wants her to quit the P.I. biz, a cocky skip tracer won’t stay off her ass, and a motorcycle gang is blocking her from getting to one of her most valuable informants. Time and coffee are running out.

So many things about this book, I love. Charley herself is spunky, sexy, funny, and never gives up. Her sarcastic and off-center world view is hilariously, often touchingly layered over a deep empathy, such as when she comforts a girl whose boyfriend has just passed:

“No,” I told her, placing a hand on her shoulder, “you don’t have to pretend for me.” In an instant the tears reappeared and she hugged me again. We sat like that a long time as boys and men alike passed by the room to look in, mostly for a glimpse of the girl-on-girl action.

Charley’s love force field/power struggle with Reyes intensifies:

His hard gaze locked on to mine. “Is it impossible because you bound me like a dog to a chain?”
Oh, yeah. He was pissed. “You left me no choice,” I said, my voice quivering, not nearly as confident as I’d hoped.

And then there are the other important people in Charley’s life, such as Cookie, her best friend, who always knows the right thing to say:

After a long sigh, I said, “She was really happy when I got there. I’m pretty sure she was suicidal when I left.”
“You do have that effect on people.”

Uncle Bob, Charley’s rock and stand-in father figure:

“What is this about your drains?” I asked when he picked up. “’Cause that sounds almost incestuous.”
“Oh, that was code for call me ay-sap.”

And of course, Garrett Swopes, her kindred spirit:

“I need ibuprofen,” I said, my voice distant and unattractive.
“You need therapy.” It was amazing how easily I could understand him, considering he had yet to unclench his teeth.

For all the warmth and humor, author Darynda Jones is not pulling any punches in this book. Charley is thrown into devastating danger in her quest to find the missing wife and uncover the mystery surrounding Reyes’ horrifying childhood. A few scenes made me actually clutch my stomach.

As for Reyes, well, let’s just say he has some serious issues to work out. And Charley’s dad could use a good neck-wringing. But Charley will persevere. That’s one of the many beautiful things about this book. One minute something really bad is happening, and the next minute you’re throwing your head back and cracking up. Kind of like real life.

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