Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Welcome to Bon Temps. It's just your average sleepy backwater town. You know the kind of place... a dime store, a trailer park, a diner, and a gang of newly 'out of the coffin' undead.

Sookie Stackhouse is a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. She's quiet, keeps to herself and doesn't get out much. Not because she's not pretty. She is. It's just that, well, Sookie has this sort of 'disability' - she can read minds. And that doesn't make her too dateable. But then along comes Bill. He's tall, dark, handsome - and Sookie can't hear a word he's thinking. He's exactly the type of guy she's been waiting for all her life.

But Bill has a problem of his own: he's a vampire. With a bad reputation. He hangs with a seriously creepy crowd, all suspected of - big surprise - murder. And then one of Sookie's co-workers is killed, she fears she's next...

I first read Dead Until Dark years before the HBO series (something I've not watched at all). I read it when it had a gloriously kooky cover, and Orbit still published the series as opposed to Gollancz, in the UK. I even imported the new novels from the States to keep up with the series, I was so enamoured. This is the first time I've revisited the series and I confess to being enormously disappointed. I can't quite work out why I devoured these books so voraciously, in all honesty.

I think the best that can be said of Dead Until Dark is that it is lightweight fun. You can whip through it in a single sitting, if you're so inclined. The language is fairly basic, the plot (such as it is) can be followed with ease. There is nothing difficult or particularly meaningful about Dead Until Dark. It is the perfect book for when you want to switch off your brain and be entertained.

Except that, well, there is not a great deal of entertainment to be found here. The pacing of Dead Until Dark mystifies me utterly. There is a slow, slow, slow build-up - where we find out more than we wish to know about Sookie's daily routine, what she does when she's off work, how she cleans her grandma's house - before the "big" finale to the book, which is over in a few short pages.

The characters in Dead Until Dark are, on the whole, paper thin. Sookie provides some interest in terms of how she reacts to her "disability", and the way that people act towards her is also dealt with well. Certainly has echoes of racial prejudice that gives the book some much-needed emotion. I am given no good reason by Ms Harris as to why Sookie is *so* attracted to Bill, except for the fact that he is good looking and she can't hear his thoughts. Their relationship is not remotely believable, as far as I am concerned, and we find out nothing about Bill's character that has me wanting to read more about him.

The secondary characters suffer even more. I am hard-pushed to tell the difference between the various people who inhabit Bon Temps - the Bellefleurs, Rene, Sookie's co-workers. They all wander on-screen, say a few words and then wander off again, without contributing anything particularly meaningful to the plot. Thanks to this, the revelation of the murderer came entirely out of left-field for me, because Harris had not laid down enough clues to guess who it might have been.

The presentation of the deep South is an interesting backdrop to the story. I like the fact that New Orleans is an attraction for the newly 'out' vampires, thanks to the Anne Rice thing. I enjoyed the character of Bubba *very* much. There are a few moments of good quality in Dead Until Dark, which makes it so very sad that the rest is so dull.

From what I've heard, watch True Blood and give the Sookie books a miss.


  1. I read this several years ago and remember liking it...yet I have never felt all that compelled to keep going. I got a little ways into book two, misplaced the book, and haven't felt a strong urge to turn the house inside out looking for it. Not sure why.

  2. I really enjoyed this series and read the whole thing obsessively. It's like a sugar fix! However, I have to admit I prefer the tv adaptations.

  3. I read this a while ago and had a similar reaction. I did like it, but it didn't wow me to the core as it's done with everyone else. I found it very much a series opener; it introduced the basic premise and a few of the characters, but everything was much thinner than I expected it to be.

    TRUE BLOOD is much, much better--so much better, in fact, that it's made me want to read the rest of the books, even though this one didn't do a whole lot for me.