A Grave Peril
A Grave Peril is the third book in Wendy Roberts’ Bodies of Evidence series featuring Julie Hall, a young woman with the unusual ability to locate dead bodies using a set of dowsing rods. I’ve been meaning to dip into this series ever since I read Lynn’s review of the first book, A Grave Calling, but haven’t managed to get round to it yet – so when I saw this book was available for review I decided to pick it up. A Grave Peril works fairly well as a standalone, as the author has included enough information about Julie’s backstory to fill in any gaps for a newbie, although I think I’d have benefitted from reading the earlier books in order to get a fuller picture of the events that have shaped her.
Julie Hall has been in a relationship with her FBI agent boyfriend Garrett Pierce for a couple of years, and they’ve recently bought a house together, a fixer-upper in a quiet neighbourhood near Seattle – which isn’t quiet enough for Julie’s liking, mostly because she grew up in an isolated environment and doesn’t like having neighbours. But… it’s a nice house and she’s starting to feel safe there; plus she knows her aversion to having people around is one of the many issues she needs to work on.
After the truly harrowing events of the last case she worked on (detailed in book two, A Grave Search), Julie is taking a break from her business – Divine Reunions – to recuperate, but lately has been feeling ansty about getting back to work. Her inbox is overflowing with requests for help finding the bodies of loved ones from people desperate for closure and to find and bury their dead, and Julie decides it’s time to ease herself back in. She’ll take on a request she received a few months back from a mother desperate to find the body of the son who went missing while out hiking in the forest near Spokane. Garrett – who has been away from home working a case for the last week – isn’t wild about the idea of Julie taking on this job without him there to support her, but she agrees to take a friend with her when she drives out to Hog Lake, and that eases his mind a little.
But just as Julie is starting to feel more like her old self and regain confidence in her dowsing ability, Garrett starts to act strangely. She knows he’s working a big case – although of course he can’t tell her about it – but when he makes it home, he’s snippy and distant, and although he tells her he’s been recused from the case (because he’d discovered his late wife’s brother was involved), the next day, he’s gone again and is back working it. Julie can see he’s rattled, but doesn’t want to add to his worries by asking too many questions; she agrees to take on another job – this time searching for the body of an eight-year-old girl – but becomes uneasy when she doesn’t hear from Garrett. It’s unlike him not to text or call once a day, even if it’s just a brief ‘I’m fine’ or ‘I love you’; he doesn’t answer her calls or texts, and days later, after finding a message from him telling her to “trust no-one” Julie’s worries multiply. She starts to think that he’s in over his head and decides to try to find him herself, even though it means putting herself in danger – as that’s what he’d do for her if the situation were reversed.
From reading reviews of the earlier books, I gather that this storyline is a bit of a departure because it focuses more on Julie and her relationship with Garrett than on her working on her dowsing cases. Not having read those (yet), I can’t make comparisons; but I can say that I enjoyed this book for what it was, and found it a fairly absorbing read. Julie is clearly battling some very difficult problems – alcoholism for one – and suffers PTSD as the result of an abusive upbringing; she’s a loner who struggles to form relationships, or rather, shies away from them because her past has taught her, over and over, that the only one she can rely on is herself. Falling in love with and learning to trust Garrett (who is, incidentally, over twenty years her senior) are huge steps forward for her, but she fights every day to stop herself retreating into her protective shell. Garrett’s erratic behaviour would be hurtful for anyone on the receiving end, but for Julie, it’s a knock to the fragile new reality she’s attempting to construct for herself – and it’s a testament to her strength and resilience that she doesn’t just fall apart or retreat to the bottom of a bottle.
Even though Garrett is absent for a large part of the book, the author does a good job of showing the strengths – and weaknesses – of their relationship through Julie’s thoughts and actions. The fact that she wants to save him from whatever mess he’s got into speaks to the depth of her love for him, as his desperation to keep her safe and out of it speaks to his; but Julie’s trust is shaken, especially by some of the things he says to her (out of fear and frustration it’s true, but still) near the end, and she starts to wonder if maybe love isn’t enough.
There are only a handful of secondary characters in the book, and the standout is Tracey, Julie’s only real friend – the only person she’s let get close enough to attempt a friendship anyway – a pink-haired, quirky young woman who struggles with health issues (she has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome) but who is there for Julie and helps buoy her up when things look bleak.
I enjoyed the book overall, although the climactic showdown was a teeny bit… well, anticlimactic, and I can’t say I found Garrett all that appealing. But then this was my first time reading about him – and he doesn’t get much page time – and judging from Lynn’s review, he makes a better showing in the earlier books. Still, A Grave Peril gets a mostly thumbs-up for its unusual premise and prickly, complex heroine – I’m definitely planning to read more in this series.