Dead Until Dark (Southern Vampire Mysteries, No. 1) by Charlaine Harris, published in 2001, is the first book in the Southern Vampire mystery series. Sookie Stackhouse, a barmaid from Bon Temps, Louisiana, narrates the story.
Sookie has a gift: she can read minds. She considers her telepathy a disability because many of the townspeople consider her crazy. However, reading other people’s thoughts is not as easy as it sounds nor is it any fun. It is sometimes indistinguishable chatter mixed with emotions, feelings and unwelcome thoughts. She avoids using this “gift” whenever she can.
Sookie doesn’t date much because of her gift (or curse). She stays with her grandmother and works at a bar called Merlotte’s. Her life is routine until Bill Compton steps into the bar one night, a vampire more than a century old. The events of the night take a unexpected turn for the worst for the vampire, however. Sookie rescues him from a couple who are trying to drain him for his blood to sell on the black market. Vampire blood is highly sought after because of its medicinal properties. She helps him heal and a mutual attraction sparks up between them.
Bill is a recent resident to this small Louisiana town and the only vampire in residence. Thanks to Anne Rice, the city of New Orleans is a more of a popular vampire magnet. Despite government propaganda supported by most vampires in explaining how a virus causes vampirism, most people give them a wide berth. Their pale looks and superhuman strength causes much fear within the human community.
In addition to that, not all vampires are willing to settle into the community quietly. Some nest in groups and are a nuisance to their human neighbors. However, Bill is different. He drinks synthetic blood (made by a Japanese company) and has decided to “mainstream” it with humans and abide by their rules. Synthetic blood doesn’t provide all the nourishment that vampires may need to stay well fed but substituting it for the real thing helps to keep the “murder rate” low.
Bill and Sookie become a couple during the worst crime spree the town has ever seen. There have been two unsolved murders with suspicion thrown on a couple of residents that includes Bill and the vampire population in general. These unfortunate events create further discontent between the human population and their supernatural counterparts. The victims were women who were fang-bangers or vampire groupies who had bite marks on their thighs and ligature marks around their necks. I guessed the killer early on but your mileage may vary.
The main story arc follows the murders but there are several subplots that made this story a page-turner. First, there is the romance, which is hot and a major subplot of the story. The sex is explicit which was surprising and the chemistry between Sookie and Bill was hot. Then there is the vampire politics and hierarchical power structure within their community that promises to challenge the couple’s relationship.
Also, there’s another vampire even stronger and older than Bill who has an interest in Sookie’s supernatural abilities. Sookie finds herself spending a lot of time in Bill’s world. She is frightened of his friends, sometimes she is frightened by Bill who gets downright scary when he’s angry or in blood lust. There’s an unexpected plot twist where Sookie finds herself the target of a killer and the only commonality between her and the other two victims were their associations with vampires.
The colorful characters of this southern vampire mystery kept me turning the pages quickly. Sookie comes across as a believable character. She is a young lady with southern manners who often hides her feelings behind a tight smile. She is very protective of her family and friends. She has her moments of vulnerability about life and love.
After meeting Bill, her life has become much more interesting compared to the life she had previous. One of the bonuses for dating Bill is that she can’t read his thoughts. His vampire tricks don’t work on her either. Also, he teaches Sookie how to use her gift and how to control it. It isn’t until Bill takes an interest in her that someone else steps up to lay claim to her heart, too. I sincerely hope that thread doesn’t go any further.
Many of the townsfolk deem Sookie as being not only crazy but a little slow which she goes on to prove is quite false. The girl is quite smart, almost always optimistic and always wanting to help others. I liked her a lot. Other secondary characters like her older brother Jason (god’s gift to women), her boss and bar owner, Sam, fellow waitress and friend Arlene and the three troublesome Monroe vampires along with many of the other cast of characters made many of the scenes of this book fly by quickly. There are several other scenes worth discussing but I don’t want to spoil it all for you.
After closing the last page of this book, I came away excited in discovering yet another series to indulge in and came away surprised at how much I enjoyed this story. I bought Dead Until Dark when it first came out 7 years ago. I remember many readers enjoying it but I remember I couldn’t get past the first chapter. The problem I had was with Sookie’s “southern” voice, which kept throwing me out of the story. I was prepared for it this time and managed to get past it.
The supernatural creatures and events that the community is now faced with is still a work in progress. Two years after vampires have been legally recognized and accepted into society there is still prejudice and misunderstanding. There will always be the few bad apples to spoil it for others who choose to mainstream it. But those things will only add more tension and excitement, which is good.
The supernatural community has thus far introduced a shape shifter and a community of vampires but I’m sure this shall expand further. As for faults – I don’t care for Sookie attracting so many different suitors. Anyway, I read this book in one sitting and have already finished the second book in the series.
Dead Until Dark was my TBR pick for March and my grade, B+ because the beginning chapters were a bit slow in gaining this reader’s attention but once I was hooked, I couldn’t put the book down until I was finished. A strong recommend for readers who have yet to start this series (do I hear a echo in here?). If you enjoy urban fantasy and have overlooked this series like I have or you have a copy in your TBR pile – pull it out of there and read it.
Note: Make sure to check back later this evening for Sonia’s review for Dancing With Werewolves by Carole Nelson Douglas.
Note: Please check out the other participants of TBR Day here! Enjoy!
[tags]Sookie Stackhouse series, Charlaine Harris, Vampires[/tags]