In Darynda Jones’ first novel, First Grave on the Right, Charley Davidson sees dead people and always has, because in addition to being a private investigator, she’s also the grim reaper. Apparently she glows like a beacon to the dead, and helps the people who don’t immediately cross sort out their unfinished business and then gets them to go to The Other Side. Not that she knows what’s over there. The book opens with Charley waking from a recently recurring sex dream to a dead lawyer in bedroom (which totally kills the mood). Aside from solving the dead lawyer’s murder, she also needs to figure out where those dreams are coming from and learn more about her destiny as a reaper.
In the blurb, JR Ward calls it “hilarious.” I wouldn’t go that far. It has its witty moments, it does, but the rapid-fire attempt to make every other line a sarcastic remark or pun or bad joke got old. One of my novel pet peeves is when authors try so hard to be funny that it feels like they’re standing on the stage in a comedy club in front of a silent audience, with a drummer making rim shots. It’s just distracting and uncomfortable. Now, in Mrs. Jones’ defense other authors who do this and irk me include Christopher Moore and Terry Pratchett*. (I know, that’s like nerd blasphemy.) So take that as you will.**
Despite that, I otherwise enjoyed it, especially the parts where Charley, the first person narrator, is actually serious. The book jokes by quoting tee shirts and bumper stickers about ADD at the top of chapters, but seriously someone needs to get Charley some adderall. And I’m the first person to react to everything with humor, so I get that as a personality tick. But it makes it hard to read when every two minutes she’s being silly and not listening to plot-important things people have to say.
The murder mystery was suspenseful, as what her quest to find out if the dream figure is Reyes, a man she met briefly when they were teenagers, or someone else entirely. I like Charley’s family and most of her friends, especially her ghost buddies. Like all PIs, she’s a coffee addicted work-a-holic but hey, I can relate. The reveals are unexpected. And Charley, for all her quirks, is a good person just trying to help others. Dead Like Me it ain’t but it’s a good framework for a series.
So I did enjoy it, and I’d be happy to read the next one in the series; god knows with some series, the first book is good but then gets better and better with each successive novel, as it establishes its world and cast more. If I had to give it a rating, I’d probably go something right in the middle. Entertaining, thoughtful, creative, but not my favorite book ever.
*I actually love Bloodsucking Fiends and several of Pratchett’s books. But some of them are harder for me to read than others. Clearly this is a case where I’m in the minority.
**Authors I find genuinely funny in an effortless-feeling sort of way include Douglas Adams, Seanan McGuire, Jim Butcher, and David Wong. For the record.