Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book Review - Charlaine Harris's Day Shift

Day Shift by Charlaine Harris
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: May 5th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Manfred has settled into Midnight, Texas quite well. He feels like it's home. He's still furiously working away telling fortunes and giving advice psychically, but he's one with his life. The small community has welcomed him with open arms and they are his friends. The biggest gossip around town is that the old hotel is going to be refurbished and reopened as a short term residence for older people waiting for a place at a nursing home and for employees of the Internet company Magic Portal. Now that Manfred has settled in he has decided that he will once again do in-person readings for select clients. He has a weekend booked in Dallas to do just that when one of his favorite clients, Rachel, unexpectedly dies on him during the reading. She had recently been ill, so it wasn't that shocking she died, but when Rachel's unhinged son Lewis accuses Manfred of stealing his mother's jewels as well as being a false psychic, things start heating up for Manfred. But what really worries him is that this unpleasant incident has brought unwelcome light on his small town and all the people living their with their secrets. Manfred's problem is now the town's problem, and they have the ruthless Olivia to help. But can they resolve this fiasco before their secrets are revealed? At least Manfred knows why he's been so determined in his work lately; it's to pay for his high priced lawyer.

Charlaine Harris is an author I love flaws and all. When she is on, her books are delightful fun. Though she's not always on. She is an uneven writer who I am always ready to give a second chance to. Was the entirety of the Sookie Stackhouse series amazing? No. Seeing as it lasted thirteen books that would have been a miracle. I was very excited to see her going back to her mystery style epitomized by the amazing Harper Connelly series with the Midnight, Texas series that started last year. I felt disappointed in the first installment, Midnight Crossroad, which I felt was using the supernatural elements more as a crutch to bridge the worlds of Sookie and Harper. But upon picking up Day Shift all the failings of Midnight Crossroads are now forgiven. While there are similarities to the two known worlds she has built, I see now that Midnight Crossroads was needed in order to set up this new world. It took awhile to settle in and get to know these outcasts, and now that we do? Oh my, the action starts almost on the first page and doesn't let up till the last moment creating a fun escapist read that I actually didn't want to end.

The key to Day Shift's success lies in the mystery. Yes, you could say that most of the town and it's inhabitants are a mystery, but the disappearance of Bobo's girlfriend was laughably pedestrian in scope in the first book. But again, the first book isn't about the mystery, it's about the people. Now that we know the people, well, to a certain extent, they do like to keep their secrets, the "mystery" can take a front row seat. The death of Manfred's wealthy client Rachel isn't a shock. If you'd read the book's blurb you knew she'd be down for the count. It's the way she died coupled with the familial complications that make the mystery intriguing. It is also the way in which Manfred experiences her death, with her dead husband's spirit literally spiriting her away through their connection that adds a spine tingling frisson of spookiness. It was a rare moment in Charlaine's writing that felt so real and so deliciously "other" that I smiled to myself knowing that I was going to enjoy the ride. The fact that in trying to solve Rachel's murder we get light shed on that most mysterious of Midnight's inhabitants, Olivia, that the book develops some real depth. Olivia's story also helps to take the edge off my hatred of her vampire lover.

It's this slow reveal of all these characters having hidden depths that is what makes this book work. They are all there for a reason, and slowly, we're going to learn those reasons. With Charlaine's Sookie Stackhouse books, despite how much they tried to book them as "Southern Vampire" or even as an ensemble like with True Blood, the truth is there was one heroine and it was her series. In Midnight Crossroad it seemed very much like Manfred was going to step up and take on the mantle of "star" but as I read this book I realized that he's not the star, he was just our avatar to enter this little community. Now that the town is established, he's just one of the denizens and each and every one of them is a star. I was OK with this shift, in fact it lends itself to the series's longevity going forward. We won't see the world just from Manfred's POV. Here we got quite a lot of Olivia, but who knows who will be next? Personally, I want to know all the stories hidden in this town so I don't care who takes center stage in the next installment. It really is becoming a great ensemble in this wacky little southern Twin Peaksy town.  

I do want to know though why Charlaine feels it necessary to keep having these Sookie cross-overs. Yes, I can see that her publishers might have foisted this on her in order to lure in the readers from her most successful series, but how much longer will it go on? I can see it as useful in the beginning, to an extent. But the truth is that there wasn't really any connection in the first book other then vampires and werewolves. Did the first book do so badly that she was ordered to put someone, anyone, from the Sookie-verse into Day Shift to pump up the sales? Thankfully she minimally used Barry the telepath and Quinn the were-tiger. But I don't want this to continue. Yes, the supernatural community is small and they probably do all know each other, but perhaps I want something new? The small town of Midnight is very closed and secretive so I wonder how realistic it is that they would let these strangers show up and not run them out of town? Or do they have some special sensor that makes them know if the people are "one of us"? Only time will tell, but I do hope that this series is given a chance to stand on it's own versus being some sort of spin-off of Sookie Stackhouse. This book was great and it deserves to grow beyond the obvious comparisons.

Though I did find one aspect of these cameos interesting. And that's that it appears there has been a shift of some kind in the supernatural world. Something has changed and it appears that the supes are going underground. Texas no longer as a thriving vampire population, it seems that all vampires are congregated now in Louisiana. So what happened? Was there a big backlash from the were reveal? Did the non-supernatural world say enough is enough? Olivia references vampire hunters, which makes it seem that perhaps they are more common than they once were. I find it interesting that with just a few little mentions here and there that Charlaine was able to permeate her book with a sense of unease for the supernatural community. This also makes me wonder what future refugees might turn up in Midnight. Who will take over the gas station? Why was the Midnight Hotel really rebuilt at all that cost for almost no return? There's a shift coming to this world, and I can't wait to read what happens next.


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