Third Grave Dead Ahead, Fourth Grave underlines it, wraps it in a pretty package and sticks a bow on the top. Jones has taken what was an irreverent and interesting world with a strong voiced heroine and reduced it to an abuse fetish. If women who love dysfunctional abusive jerks are your thing, Darynda Jones is writing for you.
In the last book Charley was beaten and left for bait by her lover, Reyes. Her father also set her up as bait in order to protect his other daughter and the bitch stepmother that made Charley's childhood hell. In both cases Charley is physically harmed by a man who is supposed to love her, then left for dead. As Fourth Grave opens Charley is suffering from PTSD (for about a minute) and dealing with the emotional fallout of the previous events. Mostly by chasing after Reyes and being totally up for it. She shows some token anger at her father (who also spends part of this book shooting her) but quickly forgives him as well. Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. Bar. Be. Que.
No, Jones is not foxtrot kidding me, she's completely serious. Reyes controls Charley, misleads her, withholds vital information from her, threatens to kill her family (again!) becomes furiously angry at her when she asks questions or doesn't act on knowledge she doesn't have, gives her the silent treatment and deceives her. Charley cries and apologizes for not understanding him enough. I don't know why. Almost all of the book is Charley trying to understand poor, poor Reyes or wanting to have sex with super hot sexy Reyes. Reyes is an abusive homicidal ass. He leaves Charley high and dry over and over. She can't talk to his friends or his family. He doesn't even want her to know where he lives. He wishes Charley would just man up and quit sniveling because if she did she'd be so special.
Screw that. If I want to read about a woman being gaslit by an abuser with a savior complex I'll read the paper. I simply don't believe that if Charley takes enough physical and emotional abuse from Reyes and others she will become a better person. I no longer care about the heaven versus hell underpinnings of the story. The interesting characters have been sidelined in favor of more abuse dynamics. Charley is abducted by a bank robber and fantasizes about sex with him after he duct tapes her to a chair in an abandoned building. Charley mistreats a man who has (literally) been to hell for her and is always there for her. She treats with the most contempt the man who is the most considerate. Charley is ill. I can't watch the train wreck any longer.
Adding to my discontent is the inconsistent components of the other characters. Amber is 12. we are supposed to believe that this 12 year old girl kept a traumatizing and life threatening experience secret from her mother, whom she is close to. We are also asked to believe she finds Reyes attractive and finds overhearing relations between Charley and Reyes stimulating instead of embarrassing, disgusting or appalling. Like Charley, anything female of any age surrounding this abusive ass must be up for it, despite the unlikely age component involved. Cookie, her mother, places fighting demons above her child's safety. I can't even address Charley's father in this limited space so let's move on to her neighbor, Peri. Demons are possessing people who can see auras. Peri sees auras. Demons are surrounding Charley's life and looking for access points. Peri has access to Charley and is in her life. Demons never possess Peri, choosing bodies from other states instead. There is no longer any logic to Charley's world. People make choices to serve the story and for no other reason. Even seeing the dead has been shuttled to the side as an afterthought and a page filler instead of a way to drive the narrative forward. Jones gives every appearance of dragging the main points of the story through as many books as the market will bear. There is no end in sight for the reader. I'm disappointed that a series of such promise has devolved into an unpleasant experience.