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Living Dead in Dallas: A Sookie Stackhouse Vampire Mystery

Charlaine Harris

Orbit, 2004, 279pp, £6.99, ISBN: 1-84149-300-7

Well there’s no abating the tide of the FFFFFFF’s (the Ferocious Faux-Feminist Female Fantôme Fighting Fictions). Plucky Sookie is back in action to eye up the fit chaps, feign outrage that men should have indecent thoughts about her (despite, and we have it on good authority from Ms Stackhouse herself, her breasts being a gift from God apparently) but stay monogamous to her beau – hot-lovin’ southern vampire smoothy Bill. Thing is, due to a deal brokered in Book One, Bill occasionally has to sub-contract his new squeeze to the dangerous but oh-so-macho Eric (add The Vampire at your own risk) for her highly prized powers of telepathy. So Sookie goes to Dallas for a touch of mind reading. A vampire nest are searching for one of their number, missing in a bizarre gay vampire bar incident. It’s down to Sookie to follow the trail, which unfortunately leads to a rather unpleasant bunch of religious reactionaries, The Fellowship, who like nothing better than a dawn barbeque, where the vampire meat provides its own flames. Some people, it seems are not keen on the vampires’ status as legal citizens of the US of A – and this is something other creatures, such as the shape-shifters and the super-scary poisonous messenger of doom the Maenad are keen to avoid. Dangerous times for our waitress-cum-psychic detective.

Some books need to be read in absolute silence. Some you can handle with a bit of light music or on a train. The beauty of Sookie is that you could read her adventures in a war zone while being hosed with paint and shouted at by scary people in latex William Shatner masks. Not that that is recommended, but goes some ways to explain the ease of read we have here. This is no bad thing and the book’s heroine goes to some great pains (and often) to redress the perceived balances of prejudice in a so-called classless society. This ultimately makes the book easy to criticise (and in doing so the reader falls foul of precisely what it seeks to debunk) but hard to dislike – the Sookie Stackhouse books are undoubtedly enjoyable to read, just at times hilariously misguided. The main joy lies with Sookie’s inability to grasp the hypocrisy about her attitudes to sex. It’s very much a ‘have your cake and eat it’ affair with faux disgust at anyone else’s sexual practices and a howling moment when she chastises her libido-drenched brother about his homophobia when her own attitudes are hardly sound. Moreover the whole of southern America comes across as a hot-bed of sex that is only held back by the moral fortitude of our heroine, suffering the Mills and Boon perils of masochism and near rape experiences to remain ‘pure’ for her man. In this context the book holds its own as contemporary melodrama with a supernatural twist, a pot-boiler of sensationalism with a conservatively moral heroine trying to hold on to values in her own deranged and joyfully amusing way.