Vampire aficiodados are familiar with Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire series featuring mind reader Sookie Stackhouse and her adventures with vampires and other paranormal characters.
Now Ms Harris has begun another series with a heroine whose strange talent allows her to identify corpses and tell how they died. Below is my review of the second book in the series, Grave Surprise (Berkely Prime Crime, 2006).
The past has not always been kind to Harper Connelly. Both parents had drug addiction problems, and her mother eventually died of AIDS. But one disaster, a direct lightning strike, uncovered an unusual, long hidden talent. As Harper explains to a doubtful police detective, "I find corpses. People call me in, and I find the bodies of those who've passed on. If the location of the corpse is already known, I can tell you the cause of death." Traveling with her stepbrother and business partner, Tolliver Lang, she arrives in Nashville, Tennessee at the invitation of anthropologist, Clyde Nunely, who would like her to demonstrate her particular talent to his class. He is skeptical of course, and Harper realizes this, but she is used to such an attitude. The students, Harper, Tolliver and Nunely meet at the old St Margaret's churchyard where Nunely has Harper stand on various graves, tell who is buried there and how each person died. Harper has no problem with this until reaching the grave of Josiah Poundstone. She is startled when she senses two bodies, one of which has been recently buried. Then Harper realizes that the second body belongs to a young girl, Tabitha Morgenstern only 11 years-old when she disappeared a year ago.
From here the story takes bizarre twists and turns. A month after Tabitha disappearance the Morgensterns had asked Harper to help locate their daughter. She was never able to do so until now. The police are called and Harper is immediately under suspicion. She and Tolliver know that the discovery of Tabitha's body by Harper cannot be a coincidence. They have no idea who could be behind this, but they need to find out ASAP.
The vividly drawn characters are as interesting as the mystery that surrounds them. At the heart of Grave Surprise is a neat puzzle with a Perry Mason finale.
First book in the series is Grave Sight.