Dead Until Dark

 
Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris
(Ace, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-441-00923-9
****
My five-heart review of Dead Until Dark, the first Southern vampire novel featuring Sookie Stackhouse, described the book as a “brilliant combination of fantasy, mystery and romance” that could be appreciated by a wide range of readers, even those who usually didn’t like vampire romances. Its follow-up, Living Dead in Dallas, isn’t quite as memorable, but it is still well worth the time spent to revisit the psychic cocktail waitress and her vampire lover, Bill.

In Charlaine Harris’ alternate reality, vampires have recently “come out of the closet” and are semi-accepted members of society, existing primarily on synthetic blood substitute. But there are other strange creatures lurking in the wilds of Bon Temps, Louisiana, and Sookie encounters a particularly violent one when she and Bill are on their way to a meeting with Eric, the region’s head vampire. Sookie is already troubled because the cook at her bar was recently found murdered, but being attacked by a vicious supernatural creature really puts a crimp in her evening. It takes the combined efforts of several vampires to save Sookie’s life, which only makes her more indebted to Eric.

Sookie’s ability to read human minds has caught the attention of the vampire community, and she is “loaned out” to the Dallas nest to help locate a missing vampire. The trip to Dallas (on Anubis Air, which boasts comfortable facilities for Bill and his coffin) leads Sookie into more danger and forces her to re-examine the relationship with her lover. But the greatest challenge faces Sookie when she returns to Bon Temps and investigates the murder of her co-worker. In a world full of vampires and shape-shifters, human beings can still be the most dangerous and evil inhabitants.

Living Dead in Dallas is a fast-paced read that hurtles through one hair-raising adventure after another, but it is not as well plotted as its predecessor. Several loosely-linked violent scenes but no single climax leave the reader with an impression of unfinished business. It has the feel of a transitional novel, setting up Sookie’s new role as vampire crime solver and introducing other unusual creatures that may play later roles. The novel’s tone is darker and kinkier than Dead Until Dark, although Sookie’s first-person narrative provides touches of humor to prevent it from becoming too bleak.

Thank goodness for Sookie, whose distinct personality defines the series. The shy barmaid who endured years of loneliness and torment because of her psychic “affliction” has come out of her shell. She resourcefully utilizes her skills and valiantly stands up to powerful vampires in ways that would have been unthinkable at the start of the series.

Sookie’s relationship with Bill is not always an easy one. He is caring, protective and sexy (and his mind, thankfully, is closed to her). But he is definitely not human, and his natural vampire behavior sometimes repulses her. Then, too, Sookie is still discovering her powers, and she has attracted several other admirers of various types (none of them human). So occasionally she is tempted to explore other options. Sookie and Bill are still together at the end of the novel, but there’s no guarantee that they will remain that way in the long run.

Charlaine Harris is the author of several ongoing mystery series and there’s no release date set yet for the next Sookie Stackhouse novel. But wherever she goes - “Vampire in Vegas”, perhaps, or “Bloodsuckers in Boston” - I’ll be there. I can’t tell where she is headed and I don’t expect Sookie’s journey to be a smooth one. But isn’t that the hallmark of a good series?

--Susan Scribner


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