Charlaine Harris – Dead Until Dark – Book review

You can’t have missed the fact that vampires are the hot topic in movies and TV at the moment. After getting hooked on True Blood, the television series where vampires are trying to integrate into society, I decided to pick up the series of novels the show is based on. Lisa and I got a compendium of the Sookie Stackhouse novels a couple of months back and gobbled them up.

We’re covering the entire series of Southern Vampire Mysteries on Shout’s Book Club at the moment, starting with the first novel Dead Until Dark.

Dead Until Dark has two jobs to do: it has to establish the characters in Sookie Stackhouse’s fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana as well as providing the reader with a juicy murder/mystery. I’ll grant you, that may not be the way [[Charlaine Harris]] originally intended it, but as a modern reader, that’s how it feels.

Harris excels on both counts. Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress in the small town of Bon Temps, but she’s telepathic: an ability she considers more of a curse. In the wider world, vampires have just “come out of the coffin”, revealing themselves to the human race now that new synthetic blood removes their reliance on human blood.

Of course, the arrival of vampires as the planet’s newest minority creates waves of racial tension. The vampires have a certain allure to many humans, known as fangbangers for wanting to sleep with the undead. And of course, The Fellowship of the Sun represents narrow-minded bigotry in the name of a fundamentalist God. What’s clever about Harris’s execution of the story is that none of these things is too overt. They’re an important backdrop to the story, but they never threaten to eclipse the murder-mystery. It’s as if Harris knew she was going to write a series of Stackhouse books and had plenty of time to investigate the world she’d created.

The Fangbanger Murders

Yes, the thrust of Dead Until Dark is a series of shocking murders in the small town of Bon Temps. All of the ladies who end up unfortunately dead are fairly loose women. They shag around. And unfortunately for Sookie’s brother Jason, he’s slept with most of them.

To complicate matters, Sookie ends up involved with a vampire called Bill Compton after she rescues him from vampire drainers. He’s the first vampire resident of Bon Temps, unfortunately revealing himself at the same time these murders start happening. Sookie’s romance with him is refreshingly sexual. Yes, I’ve read the frustratingly abstinent Twilight books. The sheer relief when Bill has sex with Sookie while drinking blood from her is fantastic!

To add to Sookie’s man troubles, her boss, Sam Merlotte, decides to let her know that he’s interested. But there’s something odd about him. While Sookie can read human minds, she loves vampires because she can’t hear their thoughts. Sam Merlotte is a mystery to her. She gets strange vibes from his brain. He’s not human, but what exactly is he?

Harris sets it up so that suspicion surrounds the three men in Sookie’s life. To make matters worse, her grandmother – whom she lives with – is brutally murdered in their home, in an attack that’s clearly intended for Sookie. Much of the book is devoted to Sookie attempting to find out who’s responsible, reading the minds of patrons in the bar, trying to clear her brother’s name. There’s murder, intrigue, sex and synthetic blood. There’s a band of rogue vampires who make Vampire Bill look bad, a trailer trash couple of vampire drainers who deal vampire blood as the latest designer narcotic and some subtle hints at a vampire power structure that not many humans know about.

Summing up…

I won’t spoil the ending for you, in case you’ve yet to read the book. The characterization is superb. Sookie comes across as a slightly uptight young lady, very conservative and quite sharp tongued. But at the same time, she’s happy to share with the reader her private fantasies about Sam Merlotte or fantastic vampire sex with Bill Compton. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re reading these books after True Blood, but I can totally picture Stephen Moyer as the very stiff, humourless Bill Compton.

Charlaine Harris managed with this first book to create a compelling fictional universe for her heroine and the supernatural creatures that surround her. There’s dumb, selfish and slightly kinky Jason, earnest lovable Sam Merlotte, vampire Bill and the nest of vampires who run Fangtasia in nearby Shreveport. And there’s a complete compliment of minor characters who can rise to the fore at any moment. The characters are compelling: after immersing myself in the True Blood series and the Sookie Stackhouse novels, I find myself incredibly fond of some of the characters, hating others and mildly amused by people like Andy Bellefleur.

No, reading the Southern Vampire Mysteries isn’t likely to change your life or anything radical like that. But for pure, joyful page-turning entertainment, I can heartily recommend this series.

Book Club

As I mentioned at the top, the Unreality Shout book club is reading these books at the moment. We move on to the next book in the series, Living Dead In Dallas next. If you want to get the compendium of the first eight books, they’re available at Amazon for a reasonable price.

Read my review of the first Sookie Stackhouse novel, Dead Until Dark.


  1. RandomEnigma

    It’s rare that I say this but The Southern Vampire Mysteries don’t have a patch on True Blood, the television series its based on. While Charlaine Harris has come up with a fantastic concept – having vampires integrated among society instead of hiding in the shadows like most fantasy stories – I just feel these books are like over-the-top American soap operas combined with plotlines straight out of Murder, She Wrote. Her world is very deep yet she never really explores it in any very in-depth way instead trying to tell the reader what Sookie is wearing on a particular night or some dull household chore she’s trying to complete.

    However, I do enjoy the books fast pace and you do feel for the characters even though I don’t know whether that’s because of the show. I sort of admire in a way how Charlaine always has lots of things going on in the background which allows a lot more depth and changes to go into the TV show without ruining the story for book readers.

    For example, if you were making major changes to the Harry Potter film franchise like the major changes that were made to True Blood, book fans would be outraged.

    Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is: These books are a disappointment after watching the TV show but at the same time are kind of addictive. I’ve read all nine books and eagerly await the tenth book in the series Dead In The Family which will be released in a few days.

    1. Gerard McGarry

      You know I disagree with you on this point: I think for a start the books provided a fine framework to kick the series off with. And they continue to lean on Charlaine Harris’s books for each series. Series 1 was based around Dead Until Dark, Series 2 on Living Dead In Dallas and I believe Series 3 picks up from the third book.

      Having said that, the television series takes Harris’s basic premise, ramps up the sex appeal and makes everything about 10 times more alluring. For example, Lafayette Reynolds is dead somewhere between Book 1 and 2. Alan Ball took this flamboyant character and turned him into one of my favourite people possibly in all fiction. And creating new characters like Jessica adds interesting new dynamics to the relationships between the characters.

      Interesting point about Harry Potter. Although there are probably different nuances in adapting a story for movie compared with adapting it for a television series.

      Why I like the books and the series roughly equally is that the series does help you to visualise the characters. I see Anna Paquin now when I think of Sookie, and all the other familiar faces from Bon Temps. And on the flipside, it’s great to read the other Sookie Stackhouse novels and imagine how the characters progress. I think they work well hand-in-hand with each other.

  2. Lewk

    After reading the first eight of these books (in the course of a week!) i’ve started to watch the TV series, and my honest opinion is that it doesn’t compare to the overall ‘awesomeness’ of the books, which might I add, I absolutely adore. 

    However saying that, I am only a few episodes through the first series, so here’s hoping that it’ll get better for me! aha.

    I also must say that i agree with Gerard, when he said that the books provide the framework for the series, and I have to add to that with the obvious statement that without the books, there wouldn’t even be a TV series. 

    1. Gerard McGarry

      The way I approach the “books versus TV series” argument is to see them both as interpretations of the same set of characters. The television series does some really cool things with minor characters, and in the case of Jessica Hamby introduces a cool new character with story ideas of her own.

      Though when you read the books in conjunction with the TV series, it kind of extends the characters, because you’ve seen them on TV. I think because there are books and a TV series, it makes the whole world of Bon Temps a lot richer.

      Stand by for more Sookie Stackhouse reviews though – I’ve read the next couple of books and will be reviewing them when I get a minute!

    2. RandomEnigma

      Hey, I must have missed these follow-up comments. Lewk, I completely understand where you’re coming from. I give Charlaine full credit when it comes to setting the framework of the series. I think her imagination is fantastic, the premise is borderline genius and without her books, there would be no show. I love how she draws parallels with the real world – how she compares the Great Revelation with racism and homophobia. This is all further cemented with the Southern setting.

      I guess what I mean to say is – I’m not the biggest fan of her writing style or how there are moments in the book where it looks like we’re going to delve into something really big and then Sookie says “I don’t care” and spends the next 3 pages talking about showering, brushing her teeth, applying her make-up, doing her hair etc. This doesn’t occur all the time – Charlaine develops certain aspects of the story and characters very well  but there are other times where I’m begging for more and never get anything.

      That said, I did read the first nine books in a matter of weeks so she must be doing something right to keep me intrigued despite my disappointment after reading.

      I prefer the tone of True Blood and I also like the focus on other characters apart from Sookie. I think Sookie is a really great female character but it’s nice to get perspective from someone other than her and find more relateable characters. But there’s no way I’m underplaying Charlaine’s role in creating this World. Without her, there would be none.

      1. Gerard McGarry

        there are moments in the book where it looks like we’re going to delve into something really big and then Sookie says “I don’t care” and spends the next 3 pages talking about showering, brushing her teeth, applying her make-up, doing her hair etc.

        I kind of like how she does that – Sookie’s in deep with a bunch of supernatural creatures that were pure fiction just a few years previously. I think sometimes Sookie has to repress some of the bigger questions out of necessity or she’d simply break down. These are the times she tends to say “but I’ll think about that later”.

        Plus, I don’t think it would be much fun if Harris was to break from the narrative to discuss philosophical matters related to vampires, werewolves and humans. She does this perhaps as well as she can through the story telling – like the Fellowship Of The Sun.

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