Charlaine Harris,
Club Dead
(Ace, 2003)

Sookie Stackhouse is a small-town waitress who can -- but doesn't want to -- read the minds of people around her. Her life, certainly not without hardships, is pleasant enough and Sookie is content ... until she learns that her first and only boyfriend, who's a 150-year-old vampire, is missing.

He might be a prisoner, being tortured for information by another vampire clan.

And he might be cheating on her, too.

Charlaine Harris takes readers to Club Dead, the third in a series of down-home vampire stories set for the most part in rural Louisiana. Fans of the series will find plenty that's fresh in the novel, including some surprising growth by Sookie and a great deal of new information on vampire politics and shapeshifters -- plus an in-depth look at southern Were culture.

Bill, Sookie's possibly straying beau, plays a lesser role in this book (after all, he's missing), but the void is more than filled by the charismatic vampire chief Eric and Alcide, a cooperative Mississippi werewolf. The book also stretches Sookie's moral code -- the news that her lover might be having an affair and may be planning a breakup leaves our heroine conflicted on her own feelings about loyalty, commitment and opportunistic sex. A handful of erotic scenes may titillate some readers, while others may find themselves tempted to give Sookie a good shake and lecture.

In this and other ways, Sookie finds herself gradually developing some similarities to Anita Blake, Laurell K. Hamilton's Nike-clad sex kitten and vampire slayer. That's a route I hope Harris avoids in future novels; Sookie is far too unique and interesting to become an Anita Blake (or Buffy) clone.

That caution aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Club Dead. The story takes unexpected turns and there are plenty of satisfying resolutions, but not everything is resolved neatly or completely, either. I certainly hope to see this engrossing series continue further. Charlaine Harris has cunningly crafted her own niche among the mystery/horror/humor genres, one vampire fans absolutely must not miss.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 7 June 2003

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