First Grave on the right is one wild, fun ride. I was in the mood for a light, humorous urban fantasy novel, and this book definitely delivered in that respect. It was action packed, and full of complex mystery. Where it fell a bit flat for me was the romance, the over-abundance of sarcastic humor, and to a lesser extent, the characterization.
Charlie Davidson is a private detective by day, a Grim Reaper by night. THE Grim Reaper actually – without the cape and scythe, but equally powerful. As cliché as it sounds, she sees dead people. They are drawn to her “light” – she helps them wrap up their earthly loose ends and then assists them into the otherworld. Her story starts when three lawyers from the same law firm are brutally murdered. Working with the deceased lawyers, and her uncle who happens to be a police detective, she endeavors to unravel the mystery behind their murders. While coping with this case, she also has some mysteries of her own to solve. Like who is the enigmatic, sexy “entity” that keeps visiting her dreams and doing naughty, unspeakable things to her in her sleep.
From the premise alone, you can tell this is a refreshingly original story. There are no vampires, werewolves, or any other standard supernatural baddies - just one unique gal that happens to be the Grim Reaper.
First Grave on the Right is chalk full of witty, sarcastic dialog. It is packed with more humor than any other urban fantasy book I’ve read – to the point where I almost wondered if it was possible to have TOO much of a good thing. Let me explain –I love sarcastic humor, but Charlie spends almost every page cracking witty remarks to the point where it starts to feel a tiny bit repetitive, and makes Charlie a feel a bit less genuine as a character. Imagine a girl that’s cracking jokes at a funeral to “lighten” the mood – that’s Charlie. No matter how inappropriate, she keeps the humor coming. So yeah, it borders on too much of a good thing at several points in the story.
The novel’s strength definitely lies in its characters, which are complex and fun. Our heroine, Charlie is a tough-as-nails girl, with a razor sharp wit. I loved her attitude, humor, and spunk, even though I didn’t feel completely connected to her. Part of this is tied to her humor-as-a-shield tendencies mentioned above, but she also felt a bit larger than life. It’s not that Charlie is not perfect – she seems to have ADD, and her big mouth gets her into trouble more often than not. She’s also obsessed with a dream guy she barely knows. She throws herself recklessly into dangerous, life-threatening situations every other chapter. All of these flaws should have humanized her and allowed me to connect with her – but she felt too reckless, to brave, and too fearless for a real human girl (even one of the Grim Reaper variety). I’d like to see a bit more vulnerability and perhaps even fear from her in the future.
Our male lead, Reese, is mysterious, dark, violent, and otherworldly. Oddly enough, he has no physical presence in the story – he mostly just shows up in dreams and visions (very SEXY ones). After reading the entirety of this novel, I still don’t feel I completely understand what makes him tick. This is good and bad because I certainly didn’t feel connected to Reese either, but it somehow worked. I like my men with a healthy side of mystery, and Reese certainly fits my tall, dark, and mysterious fantasy. He’s a great character – lots of layers.
Where things fall apart for me is his relationship with Charlie. At the start of the story, Charlie is beset by nightly visitations from an entity that basically ravishes her in her dreams. She ends up connecting these dreams with a boy she met when she was a teenager. Their history was brief and sordid. When Charlie was in high school, she witnessed a domestic abuse case with a father brutally beating his son. She heroically came to the rescue, chunking a brick through a window, thereby distracting the dad and allowing the boy to get away. Pretty noble stuff – I loved it. Here’s where it got weird – she found the boy, and tried to get him help. He refused – presses her up against a wall and threaten to rape her. Okay… that’s not so good. She’s rightfully terrified, yet for some reason spends the next 10+ years obsessing over and fantasizing about him.
I’m sorry, if my only contact with a guy involved my saving his butt, and getting “thanked” with a rape threat, amorous thoughts wouldn’t even be a possibility. Homicidal ones would be far more likely.
And him showing up in her dreams later in life and actually ravishing her? Pretty creepy considering his rape threats.
Strangely enough, I understand Reese’s motivations for driving Charlie away. I even get his vulgar threats. What I don’t get, is her unhealthy level of obsession with him. This fixation dominates most of the story. Charlie spends so much time thinking about Reese, that she has issues focusing on her murder case. The author does give us some legitimate reasons for the connection between Charlie and Reese –reasons I can buy if not completely support, but the whole thing left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
Since romance is such an important part of the story for me, this oddly dark and violent romance detracted from my love of an all-around excellent, suspenseful mystery story. That being said, I still thoroughly enjoyed the novel. There is suspense, and a well written mystery that I didn’t figure out until the end of the story. If you go into reading this book expecting a humorous mystery story, you will not be disappointed. Just don’t get your hopes up for a swoon worthy romance.