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.
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!
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.