Third Grave Dead Ahead by Darynda Jones

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Paranormal private eye. Grim reaper extraordinaire. Whatever. Charley Davidson is back! And she’s drinking copious amounts of caffeine to stay awake because, every time she closes her eyes, she sees him: Reyes Farrow, the part-human, part-supermodel son of Satan. Yes, she did imprison him for all eternity, but come on. How is she supposed to solve a missing persons case, deal with an ego-driven doctor, calm her curmudgeonly dad, and take on a motorcycle gang hellbent on murder when the devil’s son just won’t give up?

THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW

Charlotte Davidson, grim reaper and private investigator with a penchant for trouble, returns.  Still hilarious, still exciting, but now that I’m three books in, the shine is starting to wear off.  Issues are arising for me, specifically with the relationship development between our mighty heroine and her boy toy Reyes Farrow.

What Worked for Me

What worked for me in the previous books (First Grave on the Right and Second Grave on the Left) still hold true for this one.  Charley continues to bring the laughs while being a badass private investigator with maybe a bit lacking in the self-preservation department.  This time around, she’s got a lot on her plate between trying to figure out if a seemingly do-gooder doctor killed his wife, finding said wife, dealing with Reyes Farrow and his traveling circus of insanity, and having relations with a biker gang.

Fortunately, I think Darynda Jones handled all these strings remarkably well.  There was interest and tension built into every thread, so it didn’t drag or get confusing for me.  Drama really hits a high point in this installment.  For all my issues (that I go into below), the plot kept me interested, and I’m glad I read to the end, because that’s when everything hits the fan and had me actually reacting to the story beyond annoyance at Charley’s amped up sex drive.

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100% Charley Davidson

What Didn’t

I swear to the Almighty, I feel like a coach running up and down the length of the field bellowing at Charley to get her head in the game.  I got really frustrated this time around with Charley’s seeming inability to keep her dignity whenever Reyes is around; not even her humor could offset it.  HE’S A GOD AMONG MEN, WE GET IT, CHARLEY.  Also, I was disappointed that the book didn’t really call out the problematic elements of their relationship, and if they did, it was in passing.  And Charley flip flops a lot of the way:

He didn’t hurt me. He’d never hurt me. He’d literally saved my life on several occasions, and I pay him back over and over with doubt and distrust. Then again, he had held a knife to my throat.

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This is a perfect example of how Charley is fully aware of Reyes’s volatile and unreliable personality and yet can’t seem to stand her ground against him.

The closest we get to Charley finally standing up for herself is this:

What was it with men and their belief they could order me around?  I pushed back the towel and leveled a hard stare his way, trying to decide if I should clock him.  I did owe him one, though I rarely had a steel pipe or an eighteen-wheeler on me when I needed one.  “You don’t get to tell me what to do.”  I poked his chest with an index finger to emphasize my point.

She does stand up for herself and finally lets her anger loose, but the issues weren’t addressed in a way that felt genuine to me.  There’s no conversation.  While setting boundaries is good–definitely verbalize where you draw the line–but it isn’t enough when there’s so many other issues going unaddressed.  There needed to be a conversation between Charley and Reyes about how he treats her, and it hasn’t happened yet.  (I’m holding out hope, because this is a relationship that seems like it’ll go on a while.)

Also, while I appreciate a relationship that builds up slowly, naturally, over time, I’m not a big fan of what she has with Reyes.  Mostly because their relationship consists almost entirely of sex (which is fine), but she goes to remarkable lengths and puts herself in incredibly dangerous situations for someone she knows very little about.  And while she is learning more about him, she’s not learning about him from him.  She doesn’t ask him questions, but she does use her PI skills and resources to track down information from his past.  She can stand up to literally every other man in her life, but not him.  I’m glad that he’s there to protect her, because Charley really needs all the help she can get, but he’s clearly not interested in having an actual relationship with her, but she’s still dedicated to him as if they do, and that bothers me.

There’s also this undercurrent of body image issues that keeps popping up.  I like Charley’s confidence in her own body.  (Many comments are made about her ass, specifically.)  But Charley will mention offhand how Cookie “makes big look beautiful” (from the previous book, Second Grave to the Left, I believe).  And there’s quotes like this:

Jillian was a big-boned girl with curly blond hair and one-too-many chins to be considered traditionally pretty. But her features were pleasant, her eyes warm.

I think it’s the “but” that gets me.  First, the judgment laced into the phrase “one-too-many chins to be considered traditionally pretty.”  And then that “but,” as if it’s a surprise or an exception that someone not “traditionally pretty” could also be a pleasant person.

And this:

However, I’d been to see her twice, and after getting a glimpse of her life, her pristine apartment, and neat-but-out-of-date attire, I was beginning to think she need to get out more.  She was beautiful.  Slim with auburn hair and silvery green eyes.

Maybe I’m taking this the wrong way, but it seems to me that the logic being drawn here is that, because she’s beautiful, she’s somehow…I don’t know, obligated to “get out more”?  Being traditionally beautiful has no bearing on your personality or social obligations.  And big IS beautiful, Charlotte Davidson.

These narrative remarks on appearance create some snags between me and Charley’s character.  I shouldn’t be surprised, given her absolute lack of dignity when it comes to anything Reyes Farrow, but I’m still disappointed because it seems incredibly shallow, a slant to her character I hadn’t been expecting.

Despite all these issues, I still intend to continue with the series, because it’s a series that makes me laugh, even as it makes me cringe.  I’m hoping that, over time, and given the events at the end of this book, the issues I had will resolve themselves.

Takeaway

Still my guilty pleasure, feel good series, but not going to be an all-time favorite if these issues keep up

Book Info

310 pages • Book 3 • Published January 2012 by St. Martin’s Press

Quotes

“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.

“I need ibuprofen,” I said with a frown, in case he didn’t hear me the first time. “I’m not kidding.”

“I’m not either.”

“But I wasn’t kidding first.”

“Tell your uncle he’s an ass,” he called out to me.

“Will do.” I liked that man.

As I drove off, his son was in the throes of a full-blown rant about how time was money. “Let me express how much I don’t care on a scale of one to bite me,” the former detective said.

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