AN EASY DEATH
Makes Sookie look like a softie
Meet gunslinging mercenary Lizbeth Rose on her roadtrip across America in the new novel by True Blood’s Charlaine Harris.
released 2 october 320 pages | Hardback/ebook/audiobook Author charlaine Harris Publisher Piatkus
See the name Charlaine Harris on the cover of a new book and you think you know what to expect: a quirky southern US setting, likeable colourful characters, a healthy helping of sex, and a scattering of personal secrets. Because of that, An Easy Death’s dark beginning – with several of the characters you expected to see more of meeting an abrupt end – comes as a shock. The cosiness Harris is associated with is buried deep.
The setting is also further removed from our world than Harris’s best-known works. In this timeline, the assassination of Franklin Roosevelt led to the fracturing of the United States; given the state of the roads mentioned, it’s probable that the time period is the ’50s, though no firm date is given. It’s an earlier, stranger America than we’re used to Harris portraying. Events are still taking place on familiar ground, in the southwestern country of Texoma, and further south in Mexico (which now includes Texas), but it’s a dangerous place, a spaghetti western world with mid-20th century tech, dusty towns separated by crumbling roads travelled by cobbled-together trucks and beset by bandits. It’s a far cry from the quaint shops of the Midnight, Texas novels or even the vampire bars of the Southern Vampire Mysteries. Even when the action was at its most tense, the places in that latter series never felt as downright hostile as many of the villages and towns here. There are a surprising number of references to potential rape in this book, though only one early incident of it (and that not described in any detail).
Heroine Lizbeth “Gunnie” Rose, shooter for hire, is tougher than Harris’s other heroines, and works protecting travellers. Whereas Sookie Stackhouse started out as quite a tender soul, Lizbeth is happy to kill right from the start, taking a very firm “them or me” stance (and when bandits kill the rest of her crew and kidnap the farmers’ families she was escorting, she makes sure it’s them, before finishing the job and taking her charges to their destination alone). Like Sookie, though, she’s got her own secrets, and abilities she keeps to herself. In some ways Lizbeth has more in common with the main characters of grittier urban fantasies than with Harris’s other creations, which isn’t a bad thing, but might surprise you if you pick this up expecting another likeable girl-next-door.
Most of the action in An Easy Death is a journey, blending the roaming aspect of many a classic Western with a more modern road trip. You work out pretty quickly what Lizbeth’s secret is, but the fact that she’s travelling with two wizards who are looking for precisely the sort of person she is adds a tiny bit of tension. You know the wizards will find out what she’s hiding eventually, but where, and what they’ll do then, remains to be seen, and the fact that people keep trying to kill them to prevent them finding their quarry gets in the way.
The adventure-packed journey works well as a structure. On the whole, Harris has never been a great writer of plot twists and politics. The appeal of her writing is usually in the world-building, and while An Easy Death lacks the easy charm of her previous creations, it’s still easy to become beguiled with her fractured America; you’ll find yourself wanting to see more of it.
You’ll stay on the road with Lizbeth for that reason. Whether you’ll want to spend much time with her in later novels, once more of this retro-dystopian world has been revealed and there are fewer surprises to come, remains to be seen, but this first book in the series is a decent start.
Blends the Western with a modern road trip
The wizards are called “grigori” because Grigori Rasputin was their leader, but it’s also a Biblical term for angels.