Sunday, March 13, 2022

Living Dead in Dallas

Living Dead in Dallas
by Charlaine Harris
Recommended Ages: 15+

This is the second of about 13 Sookie Stackhouse novels, a.k.a. Southern Vampire Mysteries and the basis for the TV series True Blood. The previous installment was Dead Until Dark; coming next is Club Dead. I forgot to mention last time that an Adult Content Advisory applies, as does an Occult Content Advisory; although it's more Adult than Occult, with explicit love scenes and a particularly unerotic (if not anti-erotic) orgy. On the woo-woo side, for what it's worth, it has telepathy, legalized vampires, illicit werewolves and other shapeshifters, and a creature of the departed Greek god Dionysus known as a maenad. So, we're not talking about Satan worship or witchcraft; but then it also depicts a religion devoted to destroying vampires and that may be the most disturbing part of its environment. Readers with delicate sensibilities have been warned. Most everyone else will likely enjoy the sexy humor, mystery and dark fantasy that collide in Sookie's down-to-earth, low-paid working class, southern country point of view.

The book is structured as a mystery nested within a mystery. The framing mystery has to do with the murder of (another) one of Sookie's coworkers at Sam Merlotte's bar in the small, northern Louisiana town of Bon Temps. Lafayette was not only black but flamboyantly gay, a combination that might not sit well with the up-tight folks of Bon Temps, but what really has people stirred up is the hint that his death was connected with some kind of sex club right there in town. And the fact that he turns up dead in the backseat of a sheriff's detective's car only adds zest to the mystery. Sookie cares because Lafayette was her friend, but her efforts to catch his killer (or killers) and clear Andy Bellefleur's name are put on hold when she and undead boyfriend Bill are summoned by the head of the Shreveport area vampires to loan their investigative talents to the vampires of Dallas.

The trouble in Texas is that one of the vampires in the local leader's nest has vanished, right out of the nightclub the deadies run. Sookie's part in the case starts out as simply reading the minds of the humans who were in the bar that night to find out what they may have witnessed. What she uncovers leads to the murder of a cocktail waitress and a terrifying encounter with anti-vampire cultists, which also leads to Sookie becoming acquainted with some new (to her) aspects of the supernatural world co-existing uneasily with humankind. For example, one of the creatures she encounters is a Renouncer: a vampire who repents of all the evil he has done and takes a vow to "give himself to the sun," i.e. commit suicide. Perhaps surprisingly, this doesn't make him any less dangerous. And then there's those werewolves, of whose existence Sookie first becomes aware right here, as well as a secretive organization of the "two-natured" that even her shapechanger friend Sam didn't know about. And of course, there's that maenad – a being that makes even vampires blanch, not only because of her venomous claws but also because she can "send madness," as she does in a scene from which you'll probably thank Charlaine Harris for letting you look away.

I can't send my writing advice back in time, so of course it was futile for me to expect C.H. to temper the explicitness of her erotic scenes which I felt, both in Dead Until Dark and in this book, took away more than it added. No doubt, my views on this run directly contrary to those of the series' fans, considering the "guess who gets naked this week" tone of the Internet chatter surrounding the True Blood series. (I know the series is over, but the Internet giveth and never taketh away.) Outside Sookie and Bill's bedroom, however, the book continues to build an intriguing fantasy world within the roughly-present-day American South, with a growing community of local characters, increasingly complex supernatural politics and new layers of danger, spookiness and weird revealed on practically every page.

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