Saturday, February 19, 2022

Dead as a Doornail

Dead as a Doornail
by Charlaine Harris
Recommended Ages: 15+

Sookie Stackhouse is a 20-something bar waitress living in the northern Louisiana town of Bon Temps, where she grew up. Despite her good looks, she's not much into romance because of her little "disability" – as she calls her ability to read other people's minds. She's only had two boyfriends and they were both vampires. Literally. And she seems to like it with a little supernatural kink, because a disproportionate number of people in her circle of friends, acquaintances, enemies and would-be lovers are either undead, shapeshifters, werebeasts or fairies. Oh, and witches are also apparently a thing. You'd be surprised how common it is down there (the greater Shreveport area, I mean). The vampires, for example, have come out in public and, apart from some undeadist wackos and a criminal subculture known as drainers (who peddle vampire blood as a performance-enhancing drug), they've pretty much become socially acceptable since the invention of synthetic blood.

But that still leaves a lot of secrets for Sookie to keep a lid on, like the fact that her boss, Sam, can turn into a dog; that her studly friend and would-be fiance, Alcide, is a werewolf; that her brother, Jason, is a member of a werepanther pack, whose leader, Calvin, also wants Sookie to marry him; and that her supermodel-gorgeous friends, twins Claude and Claudine, are fairies. Oh, and there's also the small matter that Eric, the vampire sheriff of the Shreveport district, is one of her two vampire conquests, though he doesn't remember it due to blah-blah-blah see one of the previous books in the series, during which he also helped her dispose of the body of a rival for Alcide's affections whom she killed in self-defense. I think I've just about mentioned everybody in the background of this story except Bill, Sookie's fanged first lover who still lives next door, and Tara, her human best friend, who enjoyed the perks of being a vampire's mistress just a bit too much and is starting to pay the price.

So, as this book picks up on the already established series, Sookie has a lot of things to worry about. A couple of private eyes are looking for the woman she killed, and if they don't suspect her, they may suspect Alcide of making her disappear. Plus, a sniper has been shooting shifters and weirs around town, and Jason's own pack (he was only recently bitten, so they don't know him well) suspect him of doing it. This gives Sookie until, like, the next full moon to figure out whodunit or the local panther pack may tear Jason to pieces. Among the apparent victims are Calvin and Sam, though there's something about the two shootings that doesn't add up. Then there's the small matter of someone setting fire to Sookie's house, and although the apparent culprit is swiftly dealt with, something about that doesn't compute, either. And then again there's a ritual of succession for the area's werewolf packmaster, and because Alcide's father is one of the candidates, he drags Sookie into it. And finally, a bad seed vampire named Mickey has been messing Tara around, and although Sookie is desperate to help, there may be no way to go about it thanks to the complexities of vampire society.

Spunky as Sookie is, the mind-reading beauty would just as soon concentrate on serving drinks at Sam's bar and getting the fire damage on her late grandma's house fixed up. Instead, she's thrust into one supernatural situation after another, fielding romantic advances from five different directions, wading into supe politics just as they take a grisly turn, getting shot at on the street, defending herself and the people she loves from dangerous and powerful beings, solving a more or less interconnected series of crimes and trying not to get too far upside-down in her favors owed to various people (in the broad sense of the word) who take that kind of thing very seriously. Stuck in the middle of a big, hairy snarl of murder, arson, interspecies prejudice, lust, passion, jealousy and suspicion, Sookie cuts through it all with a strength that belies her tiny figure and an unflinching directness that makes her a mesmerizing heroine.

Charlaine Harris Schultz is an author who specializes in some combination or another of paranormal thriller, mystery and romance, leading to 10 Aurora Teagarden novels (inspiration for the series of Hallmark mystery movies), five Lily Bard books, four Harper Connelly books, the Midnight, Texas trilogy (inspiration for the NBC series by that name), four Gunnie Rose books, and several other novels, as well as co-author with Christopher Golden of the Cemetery Girl trilogy. And though this is the first book by her that I've ever read, it's actually the fifth of 13 novels in the "Southern Vampire Mysteries" series, a.k.a. the Sookie Stackhouse series, which also includes a bunch of short stories and novellas and spawned the TV series True Blood. This review is based on an audiobook read by Johanna Parker.

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