Written by True Blood author Charlaine Harris, the Harper Connolly novels follow the exploits of their eponymous heroine, gifted by a lightning strike with the ability to sense corpses and intuitively ascertain what made them that way. After Harper discovers the body of a missing teenager she previously failed to locate and in a place neither of them had any reason to be, the coincidence is too unlikely to ignore, and pulls her into the mystery of what happened to the dead girl.
Adapting novels into comics is often a tricky process with variable results, but in the case of Grave Surprise it actually works quite well. Harris’ writing has a degree of matter-of-fact blandness to it, and so the colourful visuals allow the story to properly come alive in a way denied it by the novel’s prosaic prose. It also gives a far clearer portrayal of Harper’s abilities, each panel a brief but torturous flash of the suffering of the dying, the crushing weight of the visions engulfing her and their red tint highlighting the shock and pain of the violent deaths. The comic also grants better representation of the supporting characters, who in the novel are little more than an assortment of names without much to distinguish them. Now they also have faces to aid in telling them apart from their indistinct characterisation, better allowing you to appreciate their emotions.
A developing theme as the books progress is the awkward relationship between Harper and her stepbrother Tolliver, a morally dubious attraction growing between them. Regardless of its varying legality, you can’t deny there is a certain squick factor in the portrayal of mounting sexual tension between stepsiblings, and as the comic allows for the expression of greater character emotion necessary to the plot, so it also more clearly presents this questionable aspect.
The wide cast of peripheral characters allows for plenty of suspects, and enough details are dropped in at suitable junctures to allow you to accurately point the finger at the culprit ahead of time, although the climactic revelation is delivered in a cascade of poorly-paced exposition that brings the story to a lurching climax.
The transposition of Grave Surprise from book to comic ends up as a slight improvement on its source material, but as the book itself was rather mediocre to begin with, this isn’t really saying too much.
GRAVE SURPRISE / AUTHOR: CHARLAINE HARRIS, ROYAL MCGRAW / ARTIST: ILIAS KYRIAZIS, TAMRA BONVILLIAN / PUBLISHER: DYNAMITE / RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 27TH