Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda JonesFirst Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson, #1) by Darynda Jones
Format: ebook
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Charley Davidson #1
Pages: 310
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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This whole grim reaper thing should have come with a manual.Or a diagram of some kind.A flow chart would have been nice.

Charley Davidson is a part-time private investigator and full-time grim reaper. Meaning, she sees dead people. Really. And it's her job to convince them to "go into the light." But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (like murder), sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice. Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she's been having about an entity who has been following her all her life...and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely. But what does he want with Charley? And why can't she seem to resist him? And what does she have to lose by giving in?

With scorching-hot tension and high-octane humor, First Grave on the Right is your signpost to paranormal suspense of the highest order.

My Review:

This was a temptation I just couldn’t resist, in more ways than one.

The Charley Davidson series has been recommended to me multiple times, but I tend to have an approach/avoidance thing with books that too many people try to get me to read. Not that they’re not usually right, but sometimes I just don’t want to follow the crowd, or at least not right away.

But the thirteenth and final book in this series Summoned to Thirteenth Grave, is coming out in January. So I don’t think it’s exactly a coincidence that the publisher put the WHOLE SERIES up on NetGalley this week, hoping to generate some pre-finale buzz.

It worked for me. I can never resist “collecting the set” so here I am, fresh from finishing First Grave on the Right. And now I know what all the fuss was about.

Charley Davidson is a Grim Reaper. Actually she’s THE Grim Reaper, or at least the current incarnation thereof. It’s not just that she sees dead people, but that her job is to help them figure out why they haven’t crossed over, help them take care of their unfinished business, then lead them towards the light. Which happens to be, well, herself.

She sees dead people, and dead people see her as that light they’re supposed to go to. They pass through her on their way to heaven. As long as she manages to stay out of there herself.

Which doesn’t seem to be easy. Charley has a knack for getting herself into not just trouble, but downright dangerous trouble. Because she doesn’t just see dead people, she also interviews them for her Uncle Bob the police detective. His closure rate for homicides is off the charts – just like her dad’s was before him. (Don’t worry, Dad merely retired. Charley still sees him the usual way.)

In addition to helping both the cops and the dead people, Charley is also a private investigator. While that helps to give her a cover explanation for why the Albuquerque PD uses her as a consultant, she also has a dangerous sideline – she helps abused women get away from their abusers – some of whom go after her.

The case in Charley’s first recorded outing is a real doozy. Three lawyers appear in her office, all dead. All partners. All shot the same night. While some might call that a coincidence, and considering all the jokes about lawyers, some might call it a “good start”, Charley knows instantly that this bunch has unfinished business.

They need to see justice done in their multiple murders. And they need to get an innocent man off of death row. That their need for justice turns out to involve taking down the kingpin of a human trafficking ring is all in Charley’s day’s work.

That she has either a supernatural or extra-dimensional stalker who is invading her dreams and her waking life with irresistible sexual magnetism is either icing on Charley’s cake, or the beginning of her worst nightmare.

Or, with Charley’s luck, both.

Escape Rating B: There is a lot to love about this series opener. So far, at least, the Charley Davidson series sits right on that borderline between urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Charley’s cases, for the most part, fall into urban fantasy. She not only sees and talks to dead people, but she uses their help to solve her cases, which also involve dead people. Sometimes they are the dead people, and sometimes they become the dead people.

There’s also a “romantic” element, for certain definitions of romance. I have to admit that this was where things didn’t quite work for me. This grim reaper has an equally grim stalker who has been intervening in Charley’s life on a regular basis – whenever she’s been in really, really, really big trouble. I repeat the really to emphasize that this being only shows up when Charley is in imminent danger of becoming her own client – because Charley seems to be in some kind of trouble all the time.

Because her stalker has amped up his “game”, he’s been showing up in Charley’s dreams and her waking life for the past month, taunting her with hints that he knows more about her past than she realizes, and ramping her libido up to the max just by appearing in the vicinity.

It’s not working as romance for me. I enjoy watching the chase, and this feels all about the catch. And the identity of her “mystery being” went a bit over the top. At least for moi. He felt more stalkerish than romantic.

Thjs may not have been helped by my sense that all of the men in this story are either Charley’s relatives or dead or douchecanoes, and sometimes two out of three. The ONLY good guys seem to be her Dad and her Uncle. While some of the terrible behavior can be attributed more to their reaction to Charley’s grim sideline than to simply her female existence, it would still have felt more balanced to me if at least some of the men were decent eggs.

None of this detracted from the book being terrifically fun to read. Charley is a very likeable character, particularly if you like your snark-o-meter set to high, which I do. I not only love the t-shirt quotes that serve as chapter openers, I know where nearly all of them come from!

The mystery that Charley needs to solve is as twisted and convoluted as anyone could wish. Her methods of combining info from her dead clients with standard PI techniques both ground the series in the real and give it the right touch of woowoo to put it firmly in urban fantasy territory.

But speaking of woowoo, this book reminded me of a couple of other paranormal-ish/urban fantasy-type series, and not the ones that people usually mention. While this series does have some of the madcap elements of Stephanie Plum, Charley seems to be way more competent than Stephanie, who was always much more lucky than good. Charley is both lucky and good, and that seems more reasonable over a long (13 book) haul. Stephanie is so hapless that she should be dead ten times over by now. Charley’s enemies are darker and deadlier, but Charley seems to have a better grasp on what she’s supposed to be doing – not that she still wouldn’t like an instruction manual.

Instead, what this series reminds me of most is the Anita Blake series – only the first few books before it got to be all about notching Anita’s bedpost as often as possible. Once upon a time, Anita was a kick-ass urban fantasy heroine who solved cases and righteously put bad guys away – or underground. Charley has some of that part of Anita in her. But this series also reminds me of Karen Robards’ Dr. Charlotte Stone series (start with The Last Victim), where her much-damaged psychologist not only sees dead people, but falls in love with one. Charlie Stone and Charley Davidson would have a lot to talk about.

I’ll be back with Second Grave on the Left the next time the mood strikes!

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6 thoughts on “Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

    1. Those amazing sandals are by Alexander McQueen. I was so smitten with them that I went online a couple of years ago to check them out–I think the originals are no longer available, but you can still find some on the re-sale market. And probably knockoffs. I was seriously tempted at the time. 🙂

  1. I made it through book #8 before I hit a wall. Without going back and checking my notes–and, yes, I’ve gotten so forgetful that I need notes–I don’t even remember why I stopped. Maybe an accumulation of things. I’ll probably finish out the series some day just to be a completist.

    1. There are SO MANY series where I haven’t hit a wall so much as run headlong into the “so many books, so little time” conundrum. And there are some where there’s a wall. That’s the problem with the Anita Blake books, the first ones were so good, and then the wall of mattresses and bedposts began – and it was all over – at least for me.
      Marlene Harris recently posted..The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 11-11-18My Profile

  2. Oh fudge. You’ve gone and done it. You’ve convinced me to add another series to my TBR list! I’m a sucker for book series like this. Like you, I’ve seen this one around for years. I’ve ignored it. Now… I can’t ignore it. I want to read it. I have giftcards for my birthday… The series is almost complete. It’s the perfect storm.

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