Charlaine Harris – Living Dead In Dallas – Book review

We return to Bon Temps, Louisiana for [[Charlaine Harris]]’s second Sookie Stackhouse novel, Living Dead In Dallas. If you haven’t read the first book, read my review of Dead Until Dark here.

Living Dead In Dallas begins with a crucial difference from what you’ll know of the [[True Blood (TV Series)|True Blood series]]: in the first act, flamboyant black gay Merlotte’s chef Lafayette Reynolds is found dead in Andy Bellefleur’s police car. As fans of the show know, Lafayette went on to become one of the best characters in the series. But in the paperback version of Bon Temps, he’s a corpse stinking up the backseat of Bellefleur’s car.

So, what happens in the story?

Sookie’s really upset about the death of her colleague, and resolves to find out what happened to Lafayette. However, before she can even begin to snoop into people’s heads, she becomes the victim of a Maenad attack. The Maenad comes out of nowhere and leaves Sookie with a body full of deadly venom – which the vampire’s of Shreveport’s Fangtasia bar are all to happy to suck out for her. It turns out that the maenad is looking for tribute from Eric Northman, Fangtasia’s big sexy blonde vampire owner.

With her life saved by the vamps of Shreveport, the reason Sookie was en route to Fangtasia in the first place was to meet with Eric. Knowing of her telepathy, Eric is ‘loaning’ Sookie out to the vampires of Dallas to find out where a missing member of their group has gone. A botched attempt to kidnap Sookie at the airport alerts her and Bill (who travels by coffin) that something is amiss in Dallas. After questioning the Dallas vampires’ staff, they ties the disappearance to a radical anti-vampire group called The Fellowship Of The Sun. Sookie and another guy try to infiltrate the Fellowship by posing as a young couple, but they’re quickly rumbled by the extremists and locked in the basement of the church.

Luckily, as Sookie is being attacked by one of the Fellowship men, she’s saved by Godfrey – a vampire who’s preparing to ‘meet the sun’ with the help of the Newlins (the people who run the church). He helps Sookie escape partly and distracts the Newlins while a female shape shifter helps her out of the church. Ultimately, Sookie survives capture and a car chase with the Fellowship women, helps Godfrey meet the sun. However, the Fellowship retaliate by opening fire on the vampire nest in Dallas – but a split second warning from Sookie (who detected the agitation in the approaching gunmen) saves the lives of the vampires. The humans with slower reaction times are slaughtered. She’s dismayed when Bill gives chase to the shooters and slaughters a few of them.

When Sookie and Bill return to Bon Temps, they keep their distance from each other. Sookie busies herself with trying to find out about Lafayette’s death and discovers a sex club operating in the town. They’re a furtive bunch, but they invite Sookie to join them because they think associating with a vampire makes her kind of slutty (they’re not completely wrong either). She enlists Eric to go along with her. But as they attend the party, the maenad returns and slaughters most of the debauched group, satisfying her request for tribute from Eric.

Fellowship Of The Sun

I adore the Fellowship Of The Sun – they’re everything that’s wrong with far-right religious types. The Fellowship can’t stand anything that’s different, and they’ve formed in reaction to the revelations that vampires exist in the world. Harris – for my money – hits the nail on the head with the Fellowship. Where anyone else would be questioning what the discovery of supernatural creatures means, the Fellowship have an automatic anti-vampire stance. But do vampires prove or disprove the existence of God? If God created them, surely He had a plan for them?

Anne Rice’s vampires do their own naval gazing in religious matters: Lestat assumes his nature to be evil, but at the same time many of Rice’s vampires adhere to an “only feed from the wrongdoer” rule. Charlaine Harris’s vampires seem to be less inhibited, but I like the thoroughly modern institution of the Fellowship as a bunch of vile racists hiding behind the respectable front of religion. It has fantastic parallels with contemporary America.

The Nature of Vampires

Sookie ends the novel being slightly disgusted with Bill because of his decision to slaughter the Fellowship attackers. But for every instance she shows the vampires being predatory and merciless, Harris manages to shoe in three more instances where humans can be worse. In Bon Temps for instance, Sookie is approached by the local coroner. a friend of her father’s to join a sex party. No wonder she’s repulsed.

On one hand, Bill has an almost automatic right to chase down the shooters. Is it the fact that she expects him to behave like a human that upset her? Because Bill is trying to ‘mainstream’? She’s always aware of Eric’s true nature because Eric wears his lust and danger on his sleeve. She may be frightened by Eric, but she’s never allowed herself to be misled about his nature.

Verdict?

Another enjoyable mystery for Sookie to solve. Once again, you can’t help but love this little lady from Louisiana whose penchant for vampires and other supernaturals draws her into constant danger. I enjoyed the Dallas storyline for the reasons I’ve mentioned above. I think Eric really came to the fore in this episode as well, rascally posing as a visiting vampire, Leif, so he could be present in the Dallas vampire nest.

I thought the story with the maenad was a little hit and miss. It was a great device to get Eric ingesting Sookie’s blood, but the return at the end of the story was lukewarm and a bit pointless. On the plus side, we see Sookie contacting Eric independently of Bill for the first time, and her relationship with the Viking vamp developing in an interesting direction.

Living Dead In Dallas is a great addition to the Southern Vampire Mysteries, and you’ll find yourself wanting to pick up the next book almost immediately afterward. I know I did. I’m a little late with my Club Dead review, but I’ll try and post that shortly!

Book Club

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.

3 Comments

  1. RandomEnigma

    Great review. I love The Fellowship Of The Sun too and how they are written in the books. Charlaine really hits the nail on the head with how The Bible Belt in America would deal with the discovery of vampires. Last night I was watching the Season 2 boxset of True Blood and I saw the Fellowship of the Sun website advertised in one of the special features. I said that I would check that out tomorrow and see if it was real but it’s linked here – nice. I love Michael McMillan and Anna Camp’s portrayal of Steve and Sarah Newlin. It’s a little different to the books but good all the same.

    Yeah, the one flaw with Living Dead In Dallas was the subplot focusing on Lafayette’s murder and the maenad. I appreciate Harris introducing a maenad to the story – they don’t appear much in modern fantasy fiction so it was good to see, and I also appreciated how the local orgy people had sex with Lafayette and then killed him. It was a perfect way to show the hypocritical and homophobic ways of certain people in the South but I felt that the maenad randomly showing up in the woods, looking for tribute from Eric didn’t make much sense. I also don’t understand why Sam was attracted to her when she clawed open Sookie’s back? I also couldn’t understand why she killed the people at the sex party towards the end. Don’t maenads get satisfaction from sex, violence, sinful behaviour? Was she trying to teach them a lesson? And then she disappeared for some random reason afterwards?

    What I would have liked to see was more development in the maenad’s character. I’m not saying she has to latch on to Sookie’s friends and murder people as tribute to her god like in True Blood but a bit more reason why she was in Bon Temps and why she wanted tribute of Eric. I’m hoping she’ll make a comeback later in the series but ten books on and more and more supernatural creatures appearing as the books go by, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

    To finish on a positive note, I really enjoyed the Dallas storyline in the book and the series does get better as it goes along (it kind of dips a bit in Books 5 and 6 but picks up again at the end of Book 7).

    1. Gerard McGarry

      What I would have liked to see was more development in the maenad’s character.

      You know, I don’t even think True Blood managed to retell this part of the story successfully. But the time Sookie and Jason and Bill got back to Bon Temps I was ready for the series to wrap up, but they walked into Night Of The Living Orgy. By the time Mary-ann was a blackened husk, gored by a horny (in the Bull God sense) Sam Merlotte, I was actually glad to see the back of her.

      Might have worked well as a short story, but not enough material there for a full novel?

      1. RandomEnigma

        Yeah, I too wasn’t impressed with the Maryann storyline in True Blood. There was some great moments in it, there was some good ideas and Michelle Forbes played Maryann wonderfully but I agree with you – too many orgies dragged out over the episodes and not a clear enough reason why Maryann was in Bon Temps. But still, I think the book could have approached the maenad storyline differently than displayed in the book and in True Blood. I felt the maenad was sort of shoehorned in at the last minute to provide a second (more minor obstacle for Sookie). 

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