Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris: B-

From the back cover:
Cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse is on a streak of bad luck. First, her coworker is murdered and no one seems to care. Then she’s face-to-face with a beastly creature that gives her a painful and poisonous lashing. Enter the vampires, who graciously suck the poison from her veins (like they didn’t enjoy it).

Point is, they saved her life. So when one of the blood-suckers asks for a favor, she complies. And soon, Sookie’s in Dallas using her telepathic skills to search for a missing vampire. She’s supposed to interview certain humans involved. There’s just one condition: the vampires must promise to behave—and let the humans go unharmed. Easier said than done. All it takes is one delicious blonde and one small mistake for things to turn deadly…

The narrative of Living Dead in Dallas is constructed in a plot-within-a-plot sort of way, but neither the murder of Sookie’s vibrantly gay coworker, Lafayette, nor the fight against an anti-vampire cult is actually the most interesting aspect of the book.

The story begins when Lafayette’s body is found dumped in the car of a local cop. Suspicion falls on the attendees of a mysterious sex party he’d been bragging about attending, but before anything much can happen with the case, Sookie and Bill head off to Dallas to do a job for Eric, the head vamp of their region, which involves Sookie using her telepathic abilities to question humans who might have knowledge about a missing vampire named Farrell. She’s not too thrilled about it, but she did agree to perform such jobs for Eric on the condition that the humans involved come to no harm, and so she complies, however sulkily.

Really, there is not much by way of investigation here. Instead, they realize pretty quickly that a cult called The Fellowship of the Sun has nabbed the vamp and then Sookie and another human go undercover to learn the cult plans to have him “meet the dawn” in a public execution. Of course, Sookie is spotted for a snoop immediately and is imprisoned and nearly raped before she, and later Farrell, gets rescued. For something so full of action, it’s actually pretty dull.

However, it does lead to one of the most awesome scenes in the series so far when Bill breaks a promise to Sookie and kills one of the cultists who shot up the vampires’ celebration party. Her immediate reaction is great and I loved that she returned home and didn’t talk to him for three weeks. Unfortunately, the potential of this insurmountable obstacle in their relationship—Bill sometimes can’t help eating people!—is squandered, with the two of them reconciling with a bout of raunchy sex and a few words about how it’s his nature and she’s going to try to get used to it. Sigh. Color me disappointed.

After the missing vamp stuff is resolved, the story returns to the case of Lafayette. I’m a little fuzzy as to what actually happened first here—did the town residents launch their own sex club, which then attracted the attention of Callisto, the frenzy-provoking maenad, or was it her proximity that inspired them in the first place?—but it all leads to the second-best revelation of the book, which is that some of Bill’s descendants are alive and well in Bon Temps and that he is actually grateful for the opportunity to be able to assist them in some way. He might be a creature of the night, but as she puts it, the good in him is real.

Club Dead, coming soon!

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  1. What I said to J was, I find it extremely hard to believe that Bill’s relatives were unaware of their family tree. Given the complete obsession everyone in the town has with their Confederate roots and the clear emphasis that family has on how southern and awesome they are. Bzzt. I just don’t buy it.

    • That’s a good point. Or perhaps they didn’t put the “William Compton” listed as dying at age 28 together with the living vamp, Bill.

  2. Reading your review reminded me of bits of True Blood season 2. Which sort of has elements of this book, but isn’t quite like it at all.

    I was mad she killed Lafayette so pointlessly. He was the most interesting (if not likeable) guy from the first book. Fortunately Eric starts getting interesting, or I’d be totally disinterested in the series.

    • I knew the maenad figured into the TV series somehow, but that’s about it. Eric was getting a little more interesting in this volume, though I still don’t like him very much. Actually, I guess I don’t like anyone all that much.

      • No, nobody is particularly likeable, really, though some people are less irritating than others.

        And even with all that somehow I couldn’t stop reading them…

        • Yeah, exactly!

          I didn’t manage to work it into the review, but Sookie really annoyed me early on when she flounced out of the car during an argument and ended up in the woods. She tries to pin this on the maenad but even if that’s true, it still seemed like an in-character action!

  3. Eric Henwood-Greer says

    I admit, this is where I’ve (temporarily, I’m sure) given up on the series. The ways Alan Ball took elements of this book and made it his own, in a far more emotionally complex and richer way, just made me decide to stick to the show and read each book it’s based on *after*, so as to get the big surprises from the show (which I think is so much better) first.

    I know that’ll make some of the book’s fans mad—and I do enjoy the books for what they are (which makes me realize I should start reading Club Dead now…)

    • I tried watching the show, but within five minutes there were boobs and wound licking and it just seemed so very not for me.

      I continue to hear good things about this series and am tempted to give it another try, but I worry that I’ll still find it too icky. I’m similarly conflicted about Dexter.

      • Eric Henwood-Greer says

        I actually find the sex more pornographic in the novels—but of course READING something and SEEING it are vastly different. The film does wallow in sex and gore unapologetically—it has a slightly camp/pulp take on all that which I find appealing, but I know many wouldn’t.

        That said Season 1, especially the first half is far more explicit and gratuitous—it tones down considerably once they find their footing (ironically season 1 is the season that’s by far the closest to the books).

        Still, the very fact that my fave characters, like Lafayette (who doesn’t survive the first book) or new vampire Jessica (who’s not even IN the book) are big factors for why I prefer the show.

        • Some of the sex scenes are pretty raunchy in this installment. At least they’re brief.

          Lafayette survives book one! Just not much longer than that. 🙂

          • Eric Henwood-Greer says

            Ha well he doesn’t survive long enough to have his awesome relationship with the male witch, Jesus. 😉

            To be fair graphic sex doesn’t bother me whatsoever, though if it seems gratuitous it can get boring—I have more issue with gore. But in True Blood it’s done so over the top I can get past it—but I get why some couldn’t.

            • Hmm… Well, you do bring up some tantalizing points. I would like to see more Lafayette. Maybe when I finish catching up on Top Chef via Amazon’s Video On Demand I can try out an episode. 🙂

              • Eric Henwood-Greer says

                Ha mission accomplished I guess—and of course you still might not like it, I just find it fascinating how much I prefer the adaptation. (woot for Top Chef)

  4. For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’d like True Blood. I don’t even think I like it! Though I’ve watched 2 seasons now. Even the opening credits put me off.

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