Book: First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones
Reviewers: Bethany and Jeriann
Age/Genre: Paranormal Murder Mystery with a wanna-be romance scene
Preferred Reading Environment: A haunted house or a cemetary! Hey, people used to picnic in cemetaries- reading a book there shouldn’t be weird.
Reading Accoutrements: Coffee, since everyone in the book think it’s necessary for survival.
Content Notes: Abusive Relationships, Workplace Sexual Harassment,
Jeriann: I’ve been trying to get into audiobooks, mainly so I could listen to Tim Curry narrate Sabriel by Garth Nix, which I’ll be reviewing next month. But I ended up with an extra Audible credit, so I asked my friend Z, who listens to audiobooks all the time, what I should check out. She recommended First Grave on the Right, by Darynda Jones, which she had already told me about and I had recommended for Bethany to review, since it seemed more her style than mine. So I decided to listen to it, and Bethany read it, and now here we are!
Bethany: Jeriann was right, it definitely aligned more with my genre preferences. When I read the blurb on Kindle, I was intrigued and kind of excited about the prospect of a new series to sink my teeth into. I mean, how could you go wrong with a main character who’s a grim reaper/private investigator and helps the police solve murders by talking to dead people?
First Grave on the Right follows Charley Davidson (ha.), the aforementioned grim reaper/private investigator. She goes through her life seeing spirits of the departed, and helping them pass on. Charley doesn’t know much about why she’s a grim reaper or what her purpose is, but she gets some satisfaction putting murderers behind bars and helping her dad and uncle look like great cops.
Jeriann: Like Bethany said, this concept seems ripe for fun, unique scenarios, right?
Well… There are a LOT of cliches. A LOT. First off, Charley’s mom died during childbirth and Charley was left with the evil stepmom from hell. Her dad is an ex-cop who owns a bar. Her personal assistant is also her best friend, and does all the actual investigating (even though she seems to care more about gossip and coffee than getting actual work done). Everyone is obsessed with coffee (not a personality trait). Charley is chronically sarcastic (which is a personality trait, but seems to be used as a stand-in for a personality here…). Charley has a hate/grudgingly-flirtatious relationship with a skip trace who knows her secret but doesn’t believe in the supernatural. The list of predictable sources of conflict goes on and on and on.
The murder mystery part of this plot begins when a dead lawyer named Patrick Sussman III pops into Charley’s bedroom to watch her sleep. Charley is shiny and the dead are drawn to her for some as-yet-unexplained reason, so this type of wake-up call isn’t really new. It isn’t particularly pleasant, but it isn’t new. Charley goes about her morning routine, which is mainly grumbling about being awake, craving coffee, and ineffectively telling dead people to stay out of her bathroom while she showers. In the shower, she is visited by a mysterious, sensuous entity who has been having sexy times with her in her dreams (Jeriann: Is this awkward? I feel like it’s a little awkward). Anyway, Patrick eventually tells Charley how he died and asks for her help. She visits a crime scene to help her uncle, learning that the other partners at Patrick’s law firm have also been murdered.
Jeriann: So basically, I can already tell each book in this series is set up in the following way: Charley is called in to help solve a murder. Meanwhile, she deals with her own supernatural weirdness. Sometimes the two collide. In each book, she learns a little more about her abilities.
Bethany: You’re forgetting about Reyes…
Jeriann: He counts as her supernatural weirdness.
Bethany: He counts as a weird personal obsession with some dude she met once when she was thirteen!!!
…now that I think about it, the love situation in this book is a little weird…why did it seem normal when I was reading it?
Jeriann: You’ve been reading too much romance.
Bethany: I prefer to think that I’m really good at suspending disbelief. Also, there’s no such thing as too much romance.
ANYWAY, as I mentioned before, Reyes is this guy that Charley encountered when they were both kids. He’s gorgeous, mentally messed up, and has some electrifying, one-way supernatural connection to Charley. The potential for steam here was pretty astronomical.
So Charley tries to solve the lawyers’ murders while also trying to figure out who her mysterious visitor is and how Reyes ties in to everything. Meanwhile, she ogles every man she meets, commenting on his attractiveness (or lack thereof), and has wildly uncomfortable sexually charged banter with almost every man she encounters in her private investigations.
Bethany: Seriously, all this book was missing was a hotness scale and it could be the Adult American’s Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging.
Jeriann: Surprisingly, for how emotionally immature Charley (and pretty much every character) is, this book does attempt to introduce some serious world-ending issues. First Grave on the Right starts to build a potentially complex mythology, incorporating Satan, God, Heaven, Hell, demons, angels, and positioning Charley as the grim reaper to somehow save the world from evil or something. My big problem with this was that it’s kind of thrown in half way through the book after not really addressing religion or Christian mythology at all. So when we learn that Satan apparently exists, and he is automatically assumed to be evil, it rang a little hollow to me, like kinda lazy storytelling.
Bethany: Yeah, and then all of a sudden, Charley is hesitant to talk with her friends and family about what she can really do. Because in her experience, it forces a person to radically change their worldview and that can cause a rift in her relationship with them. This is awkward mostly because we, the audience, were given a set idea of her abilities and then – just all of a sudden – Charley is hesitant to talk about these new abilities that…she’s…always…had?
Jeriann: Cue a whole chapter of her agonizing over telling Cookie everything, as she tells Cookie everything.
Bethany: Followed by a paragraph of her agonizing over telling her Uncle everything, as she tells him most of it…and then forbidding him telling her dad. Like that’s going to work out for her in the long run.
Jeriann: So Charley has apparently lived her whole life with these secrets, but suddenly, the events of this book (some unrelated to each other) happen and force her to reveal the truth and also finally express some curiosity in why she actually is the way she is. Pretty convenient.
Bethany: Jeriann, if the timing of this fictional scenario wasn’t convenient, we wouldn’t have a book to read. What would be the point?
Jeriann: Fair enough.
Bethany: Can we talk about the romance now? Or…I mean, really, let’s just talk about the sex scenes for a minute. Okay? Because they had So. Much. Potential. Like, ultra-electrifying supernatural connection potential that had Charley all hot and bothered without any touching, so you just knew that when they touched it was gonna be goooooood…but then –
Jeriann: Ugh. THE WRITING! Jones communicates to the reader that the sex is really good by using the word “orgasm” over and over. That’s it. That’s how we know it’s hot.
Bethany: That’s probably because the characters don’t physically touch during the sex scenes…Jones felt the need to compensate for the lack of touching by clearly stating that the characters experienced pleasure…or something…
Since we read this book in different mediums, we thought it would be interesting to see if we had different impressions based on the presentations.
Bethany: One thing we noticed was that Jeriann actually knew how to accurately pronounce the names of the characters…who writes out the initials “UB” as “Ubie” (pronounced You-Bee)?
Jeriann: But as we started writing this review, it became clear I did not know how to spell them. How should I know how this author chooses to spell Charlie/Charly/Charlee?
Bethany: You did try every possible spelling but the right one…
Jeriann: Another thing we noticed was that certain jokes didn’t come through over audio. Each chapter begins with a quote of some sort, many from t-shirts and bumper stickers (can you say overdone?), and I learned when talking to Bethany that the joke for at least one of these hinged on an intentional misspelling. I didn’t even realize there was a joke to miss until she said something.
Bethany: As I was reading it, I kept thinking about Jeriann listening to the Gilmore Girls-esque banter and wondering if it was easy to follow in audiobook form, if that joke came across the way it was intended, etc.
Jeriann: The Gilmore Girls comparison is so apt (I mean, Cookie is basically identical to Sookie), because I feel like the author threw in as many jokes and quips and sarcastic asides (and coffee obsessions) as she could, knowing that at least a couple would stick. One habit I noticed was the tendency to replace one or two words in a common cliche, in order to make it “witty.” The most egregious example of this was “the pot calling the kettle African American.” I really don’t see how that’s supposed to be clever or funny – it just made me roll my eyes.
As for how easy it was to follow, I will say this: This is the most successful experience I have had in being able to follow an audiobook as of yet. I was able to work while I listened to the book, and still follow the plot. I was able to pull weeds from my garden and not realize that I’d missed some vital piece of dialogue. I feel like I could have probably taken a nap and still absorbed everything (okay, not really, but seriously, it was really easy to follow). That would probably be my only reason for deciding to read more of this series – the fact that I could listen to it all day and not have it distract from getting things done. I haven’t had that luck with more… substantial audiobooks, so that’s one positive for First Grave on the Right. Though I will say, some lines were a bit confusing, like everytime she said, “I walked toward Misery,” (her car’s name is Misery – yes, that’s a Stephen King reference).
Bethany: Speaking of references, the number of references to nerdy pop culture were simultaneously endearing (I love stretching my nerd muscles with a good reference to something I vaguely remember) and irritating. She named her boobs “Danger” and “Will Robinson” and her ovaries “Beam Me Up” and “Scotty.” Even though I love Star Trek, “Beam Me Up” isn’t really a name, so I was upset about that…
Jeriann: Also, I just thought of this, but her tendency to name inanimate objects, makes her naming of the silent Asian ghost in her apartment “Mr. Wong” even more cringey and dehumanizing than I originally thought.
Bethany: This book had me thinking a lot about different TV series it reminded me of…like, a reverse Psych, where the girl pretending to be a normal PI is actually a psychic instead of the guy pretending to be a psychic is actually a normal PI. It also has Veronica Mars vibes. And the plot format is a lot like Charmed, too.
Overall, First Grave on the Right was a fun read if you want some light laughs and don’t want to think very hard. Seriously, overanalyzing this book will not have positive results. It was also a good beginner audiobook read.
Do you have any must-read audiobook suggestions? Let Jeriann know so she can continue in her explorations!