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Review: The Harper Connelly Omnibus / Author: Charlaine Harris / Publisher: Gollancz / Release Date: Out Now

This collected edition gathers together all four Harper Connelly novels by Charlaine Harris, author of the Southern Vampire Mysteries, informally and far more popularly known as the True Blood books.

Ever since being struck by lightning as a teenager, Harper Connolly has been able to locate dead bodies and intuitively ascertain how they died. Turning it into a specialised skill, she and her stepbrother Tolliver travel the country, hired to either search for people who are missing and presumed dead or relate what happened to those who have been found, circumstances often drawing them into a murder mystery in the process.

On the surface, these books bear some superficial similarities to those upon which True Blood was initially based, principally with the protagonist of each series being a woman in her twenties with a tragic childhood, a close relationship with a brother of a similar age and a psionic ability that makes people uneasy and renders her a social outcast. However, Harper is a far more sympathetic character than Sookie Stackhouse: she’s considerably less sanctimonious and nowhere near as self-absorbed, and subsequently is far less annoying and a lot more engaging as a narrator. Also, while the SVMs soon spiralled into a supernatural soap opera featuring almost every kind of entity from popular mythology, these stories are grounded in (relative) reality, with only psychic powers (unusual) and ghosts (extremely rare) to counterpoint the everyday life forming most of the stories.

Harris has always had far more interest in writing about the investigation of a mystery rather than its ultimate resolution, and these books are no exception. The unmasking of each killer and revelation of their motive is treated almost as an afterthought, an inconvenient necessity dictated by genre conventions. Additionally, she seems to assume her readers have as much affection for small-town Americana as she does, not realising that plots propelled by generational feuds and gossiping neighbours do not resonate as strongly with many others as they quite clearly do with her. While the official law enforcement characters aren’t exactly incompetent, they’re certainly lacking a degree of intellect and common sense that you’d assume would be a prerequisite for doing the job, leaving Harper and Tolliver the only ones capable of solving each book’s underlying mystery.

The books are short and easy reads (only the final of the four is over 200 pages) and while the simple mysteries are unlikely to tax your brain, they’re never less than entertaining.

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