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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

FOURTH GRAVE BENEATH MY FEET by Darynda Jones (Review)

My rating: 4 stars

The fourth installment of the Charley Davidson series begins, two months after Book 3 has ended, with Charley suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from her run-in with Earl Walker: she stays inside and goes on HSN shopping sprees. But when she gets wind that Reyes is up to something fishy and a woman who believes someone is trying to kill her wants to hire Charley, she overcomes her agoraphobia and gets to work. While she's out and about, she figures out who the notorious Gentlemen Bandits--a new gang of bankrobbers--are and makes herself a target for assassination.

As usual, Darynda Jones weaves together several plot lines with finesse while keeping up the heat between Charley and Reyes. There's a lot to like about this book. Notably, Jones does an excellent job of following through on the threads from previous books and addressing most of this reader's expectations.

**Spoiler alert** Do not read beyond this point if you don't want spoilers.

As I mentioned in my review of Third Grave Dead Ahead there were five things I was going to be looking for in the fourth book.

1) We find out why Garrett Swopes is still alive. This one was only half met. Garrett was barely in this book. We did find out that Garrett had talked to Reyes's dad--that's right: Satan--while Garrett's spirit was separated from his body, and Satan told him some things that cast serious doubt on Reyes's character. We also found out that people who've had brushes with death are useful to demons because they can see Charley for who she is. So my best guess at this point is that Garrett will be possessed and try to kill Charley. I'm kind of surprised Pari wasn't used by the demons for that purpose in this book, actually.

2) We find out how Charley's guardian angel is going to guard her. The Rottweiler rips the demons out of people's bodies and tears them to shreds. In retrospect, I guess that shoulda been obvious.

3) We find out why Reyes calls Charley "Dutch." He's saying some word in ancient Aramaic that means "seeker," which is pretty cool because "seeker" hints at something more than what Charley knows she is. Thus far she has been a fairly passive reaper: she waits for the souls to come to her and waits for them to pass through her when they're ready. She's seen herself as a doorway, a gateway, a portal--all passive and inanimate. But "seeker" implies action with purpose. Bring. It. On.

4) Charley discovers new powers. I'll say! She rips a guy's heart out of his chest and crushes it in her bare, ethereal hand! She still hasn't fully come into her power by the end of this book, but at least now we have a better sense of what it is: anything she can imagine.

5) Hot sex with Reyes. Check. After what she learned from the head creep-o demon, I was totally expecting her first true physical sexual encounter with Reyes to open up the gates of hell. Kind of disappointing when it didn't. I mean, when his spirit had sex with her at the end of the first book she saw the birth of the physical universe. Anything after that is a bit anti-climactic (no pun intended). That said, the sex scene was H-O-T.

So yes, this is a good book. But there are reasons I did not give this book a higher rating.

1) This book took longer to get into than the others. I have nothing helpful to say about why this might be, except maybe that an entire chapter of Charley's shopaholism doesn't grip me. Also see #2.

2) I am no longer willing to overlook the fact that Reyes and Charley have been continually angry with each other pretty much since day 1, and they have seldom actually had good cause to be angry with each other. Best reason was in the last book, when Reyes was pissed at Charley because she'd bound him to his body. But for the most part they always seem to be mad at each other for no good reason other than to create tension between them. Meaning the reason is plot-based rather than character-based, and therefore thin.

3) Her PTSD - Charley got over it WAY too easy. I've never had hard-core PTSD but I had mild form of it when I got pick pocketed during my first five minutes in Madrid, and it was really hard for me to go outside. For weeks. And it didn't get easier after the first time. While I was out, all I wanted to do was go back to the hotel. And when I was in the hotel, the thought of going outside was terrifying.

Point is, if getting my pocket picked was enough to make it really hard for me to leave the hotel for weeks on end, then Charley getting her body sliced up has to have worse consequences than that. But for all I could tell, she found it hard to go out that first time, and then it was like she was over it. Also, why is she afraid to go outside when the incident happened in her own living room? Seems to me she should have been terrified of her own house and looking for somewhere else to stay. Why did home seem safe after something like that? It just doesn't make sense to me.

4) Seemed like a last-minute decision to make Harper a ghost. If there were any little hints along the way that this was the case, I completely missed them. Which is why, when we find out that she was dead even before she came to Charley, instead of being a satisfying shock, it comes off as a cheap trick and I just feel ripped off.

5) This might seem like a little thing, but in this book (on p. 56 in fact) Jones writes, "I decided to grow some balls and go through, too." So disappointing in that it seems so unlike the Charley I fell in love with in the first book. In the first book she makes a point of saying something like "You don't have the ovaries" (you know, instead of "balls")...I believe Charley says it to Garrett. I remember reading it and thinking, "Yes! Thank you for appropriating a sexist expression of power/courage so it applies to women and validates their strength!" Because it was a big deal for me to see "ovaries" the first time, it was a big deal to me that she said "balls" in this book.

The "grow some balls" thing is indicative of a larger trend, though: I have noticed that Charley's "go-fuck-yourself" attitude has been slipping as the tale progresses, that she gets a little softer in each one, a little more compliant and accommodating, a little less sassy. I do understand that Charley's showing that she cares for people, but I'd like to see Jones explore the idea that Charley can care for people and still be a strong feminist who doesn't need to sacrifice her own needs for other people. She can care about other people and not bend to their will.

That said, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the shift were necessary because Charley needs to be willing to sacrifice herself to save humanity at the end of the series. She doesn't need balls for that, though. Ovaries will do just as nicely.

Despite feeling a little disappointed with aspects of this book, I'll be one of the first in line when Book 5 comes out - on 9 July 2013, if Amazon.com is to be believed. What I'll be looking for in Fifth Grave Past the Light:
  • Charley comes into her full power by the end of it. This is assuming, of course, that there are only a couple more books left in this series. But seriously, she's gotta make a big leap in this next book or I'm going to start getting impatient.
  • Pari and/or Garrett are possessed by demons and try to kill Charley. Or at least we find out what their larger roles within the story are.
  • And we also find out what larger roles Quentin, Angel and Mr. Wong (you know, the ghost floating in the corner of Charley's apt) have.
  • Will Donovan come back and profess his undying love for Charley?
  • I hope Charley reclaims her feminist sass!

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