Message From The Author
SEEING DEAD PEOPLE
LIGHTNING STRIKES AGAIN FOR CHARLAINE HARRIS WITH A NEW PSYCHIC SLEUTH SERIES
By Tara Gelsomino
Seeing isn't always believing. Just ask Harper Connelly, the protagonist of Charlaine Harris' newest mystery, Grave Sight (October, Berkley Prime Crime). She'd tell you that after being struck by lightning at age 15, she could find corpses and envision their final moments plain as day. But not everyone believes. Harper's gift unsettles most folks, who think her a charlatan or a gold digger. The truth is, she just calls 'em as she sees 'em.
Of course, the recent popularity of psychic personalities like John Edward and Sylvia Browne, films like The Sixth Sense and TV shows like Medium and The Dead Zone prove that a lot of people are believers. It's a fortunate sign for Harris, who's building a new series on
the gifted Harper's adventures. "I think people want to believe there's something beyond the everyday, something we can't see or quantify," the author reasons. "This can be a dull and painful world if we don't have an element of the unknowable and unseeable."
Harris took care to avoid the dull and painful when
it came to creating her heroine. "I didn't want Harper to be a garden-variety psychic," she says. "She has a very specific area of expertise. I worked backward to get her background so she'd be the kind of woman who wouldn't flinch at earning her living in such an unusual way."
Harris' research eventually led to a viable method for Harper's madness: lightning strikes. Though Weatherwise magazine reports that the chances of someone being struck are one in 600,000, Harris found many first-person accounts from strike survivors, several of whom had been struck twice! In addition, some people who claim psychic ability attribute it to lightning strikes. "Lightning is very dramatic, very drastic. The long-term effects are unpredictable, and most doctors don't know much about treating victims," Harris says. "They suffer migraines, rashes, seizures, depression, all kinds of symptoms that they relate to the strike. Their doctors often don't believe them."
In many ways, Harper is a
typical Harris heroine, says the author, describing her as "pretty tough and also proud." She's a Southern girl who speaks her mind, not unlike the author's beloved Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic barmaid who lives among vampires and werewolves in New Orleans. But Harper has a vulnerable streak thanks to her troubled family background. Her father was a criminal who abandoned her, and her mother an alcoholic who married a fellow imbiber when she was a child. Harper's stepbrother Tolliver stepped in and watched out for her and her sister Cameron, who was abducted when they were in their teens.
Now this lonely duo roams the country, traveling from town to town, on a mission to serve the dead. In Grave Sight, Harper and Tolliver, who functions as her business manager, constant companion and erstwhile bodyguard,
are hired by a wealthy woman in Sarne, Ark., to find out how her teenage son died. Harper and Tolliver battle the prejudices and skeptical attitudes of the small community's residents, but as usual, the truth will come out. One murder leads to a string of others and a killer who will stop at nothing to keep his deadly secrets hidden.
Harper is an intriguing mix of practical businesswoman and lonely, scared little girl. She's afraid to love or trust anyone -- though a temporary liaison materializes in the form of local sheriff Hollis Boxleitner -- except Tolliver. "He's essential to Harper, though I'm not sure he's always comfortable with that. They need each other, but they both long for a 'normal' life," Harris says. "But I don't think they can have a 'normal' life as long as they're together."
This series heralds a return to Harris' mystery-driven style, featured in the Aurora Teagarden and Lily Bard sleuth series, after the character-driven, almost chick-lit style of the Sookie series. "Each book will have one main case, but I may try one with seven or eight small cases," she says. "Details of their family life will trickle out in the next few books, as Harper will continue waiting and watching for traces of her sister. And she will definitely take a chance on love."
The next tale, as yet untitled, will
be out in October 2006 from Berkley Prime Crime. But first, in May 2006, the next Sookie novel, Definitely Dead, will be released by Ace.
"Some of it takes place in New Orleans, as Sookie winds up at the estate of her cousin and has dealings with the Queen of Louisiana," Harris reveals. "Quinn has a big role in the book, but the usual cast of characters is all present, I believe. Lots of wedding plans -- but not Sookie's wedding plans."
But never fear, romantics, the author hints that we'll see a lot of that dashing vampire Bill in this installment. And seeing the dead, in Harris' world, always means a happy ending.
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