Note: This is a joint review of the first two books in the series, originally posted at http://www.twimom227.com/2012/12/review-charley-davidson-series-books-1.html
First Grave on the Right
4.5 stars: Loved it - enthusiastically recommend (A)
Second Grave on the Left
4 stars: Enjoyed - strongly recommend (A-)
Charley is the daughter of a retired cop, and her Uncle Bob (or Ubie as Charley likes to call him) is an accomplished detective for the Albuquerque Police Department. Charley has been helping them solve crimes since she was five years old. Currently, Charley runs a detective agency, which helps with her cover and allows her to actively work with the police. Not too many people know about (or believe in) her ability to talk to ghosts, and even fewer know about her true nature as the Grim Reaper. Among her inner circle is Ubie, her dad, her best friend (and assistant) Cookie, and a handful of helpful ghosts. In the past Charley has been hurt by people she trusted with the truth, so when she decides to let in free-lance skiptracer, Garrett, it really is big deal - and a fantastic emotional journey for the reader.
One of the BEST things about Charley is her perpetual sarcastic humor. She has a sharp tongue and a quick wit, poking fun at both herself and those around her. Although it is constant, the quips never come across forced or fake. Here are just a few samples of Charley’s droll disposition:
"It was hard being such an utter disappointment to the woman who’d raised me, but gosh darn it, I gave it my all. I could have invented the wheel and she would have been disappointed. Or Post-it notes. Or bone marrow." (First Grave on the Right)
"I toured them--also known as breaking and entering--regularly after accidentally discovering this asylum on night when I was fifteen." (Second Grave on the Left)
In the first book, Charley is busy solving two mysteries at once. First, who killed three lawyers and why? Second, who/what is her dream man (aka Reyes)? The two plots weave around one another in Charley’s stream of thought, therefore in the reader’s mind as well since we read the story from her POV.
Although Reyes only visits Charley in dreams, and later as some sort of non-corporeal being, he is every bit a solid man to Charley. Every encounter with Reyes is sensual, powerful, and engrossing. Charley has no idea what Reyes is, but she knows she can trust him, and the sexual chemistry is swoon-worthy. But Reyes is an enigma -- for example, why are other ghosts scared of him? First Charley must discover what Reyes is in First Grave on the Right, and then how to save him in Second Grave on the Left.
The opening of the second book has a different feel than first - it’s almost a bit darker, definitely a little more dire. Since Charley now knows who and what Reyes is, the reader gets more paranormal action right from the start, and Reyes is very worried about Charley’s well-being. Also, the latest mystery hits close to home with Cookie’s friend missing and a mysterious dead guy (ghost) in Cookie's car. Only one week passes between the first and second story.
The relationship with Reyes is slightly less hot and steamy in Second Grave on the Left, but mostly because Charley is determined to find Reyes corporeal body and won't let his seductive ways interfere with her search. The two spend a lot of the book at odds with each other, and I have to say that it dampened my feelings for the pair. Reyes is simply too cryptic, withholding information, and Charley is too determined to find him. They did have some quality chat time, which they didn't get much of in book one, and this allowed the reader to learn more about Reyes.
We also learn more as Charley discovers more about her powers and purpose. In addition, more people are coming into her inner circle of trust. In fact, Charley isn’t so bitter and is able to trust people and share her secrets. After a rough journey, she also has some excellent family bonding at the end of the book.
Both stories have highs and lows that create for a tremendous read. The juxtaposition of Charley’s successes with the realizations of her failures is poignant. The emotional journeys, coupled with romance, friendships, life lessons and humor, make the Charley Davidson series one I will continue to read. In the end, Ms. Jones leaves just enough of a hook to make me jonesing for the next book.