Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

First Grave on the RightTitle: First Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson #1)

Author: Darynda Jones

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin on February 1st, 2011

Source: Library

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First Grave on the Right is the smashing, award-winning debut novel that introduces Charley Davidson: part-time private investigator and full-time Grim Reaper.

It probably comes as no surprise that I love urban fantasy – most people do, since the genre’s meteoric rise over the last two decades has brought countless readers into the fold. Of course, the popular and critical success of urban fantasy has led to a significant increase in the number of novels published annually in the genre. Unfortunately this has led to a ridiculously over-saturated market, with the inevitable onslaught of poorly written and unoriginal new releases. Darynda Jones’ debut novel First Grave on the Right is a welcome break, introducing a spunky heroine and some surprising twists on the grim reaper trope.

Charley Davidson – yes, it rhymes with a certain motorcycle company – is a grim reaper. The grim reaper, actually. Charley doesn’t know much about her role as a grim reaper so she tends to wing it and hope for the best. There are some pretty entertaining moments between Charley and the departed, who usually demand to know what she is and how she plans to send them on their way. Quick with a quip, she prefers to dodge these questions rather than answer them. Her lack of knowledge indicates that readers will have to discover more about the mythology behind grim reapers and the origins of Charley’s abilities along with the lady herself. The little information that Jones does offer in regards to world-building was compelling and unique; I want to know more, so hopefully the sequels deliver!

One area that Jones definitely shouldn’t worry about is humor: she writes hilarious dialogue, and Charley’s lines are phenomenal. When she isn’t speaking, Charley’s sense of humor shines through via her collection of novelty t-shirts. This little gem is a personal favourite:

“Never knock on death’s door. Ring the doorbell then run. He totally hates that.”

That right there is the epitome of Charley’s feistiness, one of her best traits and the heart of her character. Feistiness is a necessary quality for Charley, who spends almost the entire novel running around trying to find a killer while simultaneously attempting to avoid being killed herself. Good lord, do a lot of people ever want to kill her! As she keeps slinging out the insults, I expect that number will mount as the series progresses.

When Charley isn’t working as a private investigator and she isn’t out reaping souls (actually she’s usually “in” as it mostly seems to happen while she’s at her apartment), she’s fantasizing about a sexy and mysterious dream figure named Reyes. A fan favourite, Reyes is the requisite bad-boy love interest for urban fantasy novels. While he was a great fit for Charley, I didn’t personally see the attraction. Why choose the homicidal, controlling alpha male when you can have the significantly less homicidal, sarcastic, combative alpha male? That’s right folks: I was more of a Garrett Swopes fan than a Reyes lover. First Grave on the Right has actually won a number of prestigious romance awards, including a RITA, so I was surprised that I didn’t love Reyes. Maybe he’ll grow on me. Even with my dislike of Reyes’ character, I was relieved that the ubiquitous love triangle was omitted; Jones makes it clear that Charley is very clearly invested in Reyes.

First Grave on the Right was exactly what I was looking for: a fun, funny romp through a new and exciting urban fantasy landscape.  What this novel lacks in world-building it makes up for in humor and pacing, with a fiery heroine and a lovable cast of supporting characters.

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