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.
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.
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.
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.