Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris, copyright 2002, published by Ace, is the second book in her popular Southern Vampire series. It is available in paperback and in digital format of your choice. I might possibly be the last person on earth to not have read these books but I plan to rectify that.
The story centers around 26 year-old barmaid, Sookie Stackhouse, from Bon Temps, Louisiana. Sookie’s life changes dramatically since she became romantically involved with Bill Compton, a vampire several centuries older. The changes aren’t all for the better. Her new vampire boyfriend comes with many entanglements and complications that comes with consorting with well, vampires.
I find the Sookie Stackhouse series so far very entertaining. Who can resist revisiting a world where urban legends are brought vividly to life? You have werewolves, shape shifters, vampires and in this entry, we are introduced to the maenad named Callisto, a beautiful woman, who currently makes her home in the woods of northern Louisiana.
According to mythology, the maenad is described as a “raving woman, a worshipper of Dionysus, Greek god of wine and drunkenness.” They make their home in the woods but very few of them are still around. Sookie and Bill inadvertently encounter the maenad on the way to a meeting in Shreveport with Eric. The maenad is upset at her recent tribute from the vampires and sends Sookie as her “messenger” of dissent. That’s basically the first couple of chapters of the story and then that thread is temporarily dropped. Soon after recovering from that incident (her back was scraped raw), Sookie and Bill learn that they’ve been loaned out to assist the Dallas vampires in their hour of need.
Sookie and Bill hop on a plane to Dallas to help find a missing vampire and return him to the nest. Sookie’s detective skills leads her to a fanatical group called The Fellowship of the Sun. It’s a religious sect dedicated to the destruction of vampires and those who associate with them like the fang bangers and wanna be vampire groupies. They organize rituals that celebrate the death of vampires who want to “meet the dawn” or commit vampire suicide. Some vampires go willingly, some don’t. Farrell was kidnapped and the Dallas nest was betrayed by an outsider.
When Sookie disguises her looks to gain entry into the Fellowship, she falls into a trap and ends up finding help from a ancient vampire named Godfrey, who is described as looking like a teen-age kid with a body full of ancient tattoos. Godfrey is a serial killer who has decided he wants to end his life. It’s a gripping yet brief storyline. On Sookie’s hasty exit from the Fellowship of the Sun, she luckily gets help from Luna, a “feisty” Hispanic woman who is apart of a secret society of supernatural beings who want to remain hidden from the world. Sookie realizes that her boss and friend, Sam (who changes into a Collie at full moon), is not alone.
The second part of the story arc bounces back to Louisiana and involves the death of a cook named Lafayette, who worked for Merlotte’s and was a friend to Sookie. Lafayette was a nice, friendly black man who was known in the community as being gay. Lafayette reportedly gossiped about a secret sex party that may have something to do with his untimely death. Lafayette’s murder proves problematic to solve since his body ended up in Andy Bellefleur’s car. Andy’s the local policeman of Bon Temps whose family tree is pretty well known in this small Louisiana town. His sister, Portia, is a lawyer, who finds vampires less than distasteful. She reluctantly reaches out to Bill to help her discover who framed her brother. However, it’s Sookie who is moved to action since Lafayette was a friend and it’s no surprise that she manages to solve this one with a little help from a certain raving mad woman, looking for tribute.
There are certain elements in this series that seem to repeat or create a pattern, for example, Sookie and Bill fighting over his lack of humanity. Bill lost his indulgence in humankind a long time ago. That’s something that Sookie will either have to accept or don’t but they do try to find compromise whenever their relationship hits a bump. However, it’s those “bumps” in the road that make things interesting in their relationship and promises to keep readers guessing. Secondly, since Sookie’s “gift” is more controllable and she’s learned how to use it to help others, she will always be sought out, owing debts and facing even more dangers in a supernatural world that boasts many challenges for mere mortals. Then there’s Eric, the charming master vampire from Shreveport with the Viking good looks, who continues to tempt Sookie from her vampire boyfriend, so far with no success.
I do so enjoy the political landscape and the moral conflicts of this world that Harris has created. Vampires are always at the receiving end of hate and bigotry. There are no laws to protect vampires from humans should they decide that the world can do without a few of the undead. There are organizations and hate groups devoted to their destruction. Vampires are the unpopular minority of the moment, since being publicly outed two years ago. Many vampires try to mainstream it with humans while many others stick with their kind for safety.
I love the idea of discovering other mythical and supernatural creatures who are still hiding from mankind. Northern Louisiana hasn’t been the same for Sookie now that she’s firmly entrenched in this fascinating yet dangerous “new” world. My grade, B+, because the start of the novel was gripping but once the storyline shifted to Dallas, the plot seesawed back and forth in momentum but the pacing picked back up again when Sookie returned to Louisiana and managed to keep me enthralled until the end. Note: I am trying my best to read all of these books before the May release of From Dead to Worse.