AN EASY DEATH

Makes Sookie look like a softie

SFX - - Contents - Miriam McDon­ald

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.

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