Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris

[This is a review of the second Sookie Stackhouse book, Living Dead in Dallas, first published in 2002. Although I don't reveal whodunit, this review contains many spoilers.]

"I drank lots of water and orange juice and took a multi-vitamin and iron supplement for breakfast, which was my regimen since Bill had come into my life and brought (along with love, adventure, and excitement) the constant threat of anemia."

Synopsis

Like the first book, Living Dead in Dallas is a murder mystery. There are two completely different plot lines: (1) The dead body of Merlotte's cook, Lafayette, is found in Andy Bellefleur's car. And (2) Sookie is reluctantly drafted by Eric as a mind reading consultant and goes undercover on a business trip to Dallas because a vampire named Lee Farrell is missing.

In Dallas, Sookie gets into serious trouble with a radical anti-vampire organization called The Fellowship of the Sun, and privately witnesses the voluntary suicide of an ancient vampire named Godric. After Sookie and Farrell escape, the Fellowship bombs the Dallas nest, many are killed, and Sookie takes Eric's blood for the first time.

In the latter half of the book, Sookie goes undercover a second time to investigate Lafayette's murder at a sex orgy, and she takes Eric along for the ride. Both plots are brought together by the appearance of a maenad named Callisto, who viciously attacks Sookie at the beginning of the book in order to send Eric a message, and shows up at the end to wreak havoc at the orgy.

Review

The first part of the book introduces the Fellowship of the Sun, an unpleasant anti-vampire pseudo-church that strongly resembles intolerant far right religious institutions as well as the KKK. The Fellowship believes that all vampires are evil and must die, and they recruit suicidal vampires to kill themselves publicly by "meeting the sun" in full view of their congregation. This particular chapter of the Fellowship, led by Steve Newlin, has decided to take their calling to even further extremes and sacrifice to the flames not only the willing Godric, but the unwilling vampire Lee Farrell plus Sookie because she consorts with vampires.

There's an interesting disconnect in Sookie's mindset that I think becomes more obvious in this second book. Many (although not all) vampires really are evil monsters without conscience who victimize human beings, which is what the Fellowship believes. And yet, Sookie keeps finding herself on the vampire side of every issue, even though she is aware of their, well, occasionally homicidal shortcomings. She continues to remain loyal to vampires, even when her life is in danger, and even when she is faced with clear evidence of their perfidy.

The vampires as a metaphor for gays or minorities is more obvious here than in the first book. It seems to me that, despite evidence to the contrary, Sookie sees herself as non-human because of her "disability". And yet, Sookie's humanity, her need to care for other people, is one of the most appealing things about her. She agreed to read minds for vampires in order to protect humans, after all, even though she constantly risks her life by doing so.

Anyway, I enjoyed the second half of the book more, where Sookie goes undercover a second time (and in a completely different way) to discover who killed Lafayette, who apparently died because of his invitation to a local sex club. Eric as a character jumps out front and center, and I immediately found him to be a stronger and more fascinating romantic interest for Sookie than Bill.

After the Fellowship bombs Stan Davis's house, Eric protects Sookie with his body and gets shot. He tricks her into a blood bond by getting her to suck the bullet out. This behavior may be underhanded, but Bill's is much worse. Bill doesn't even check to make certain Sookie is alive before he rushes outside and starts killing the perpetrators. Sookie breaks up with Bill briefly after this, but inexplicably forgives him and goes back to him. And then Bill goes back to Dallas to deal with the shapeshifters and weres who helped Sookie escape from the Fellowship, and isn't available to help Sookie with Lafayette's murder investigation. I just don't get the attraction.

The sequence where she recruits Eric to be her bodyguard and the two of them dress to the nines and infiltrate the orgy is just about as much fun as it could possibly be. It isn't so much that Sookie trusts Eric to protect her under circumstances like these, or that the attraction between them is so strong that they make out a lot (yeah, yeah, it's supposedly to make their cover believable, uh huh) it's that Eric is comfortable showing up in pink and pretending to be bi in order to seem less threatening to the orgy goers. It's that she trusts him to guard her and keep her from being attacked while she mind-reads. I love Sookie's interactions with Eric, who continues to be a thousand times more interesting than Bill. Eric's obvious attraction to Sookie and her reluctant interest in him makes me wonder if the author has come to the same conclusion. Eric is tremendous fun. I understand why Sookie keeps him at arm's length, but I'd love to see her change her mind.

I was less interested in the continuing expansion of new types of supernatural beings. I like Sookie's shapeshifter boss Sam, whose alter ego is a collie named Dean, but I think I liked it more when he was the only shapeshifter in the story, and his sexual romp with Callisto quite frankly made me like him less. And forget werewolves; I think they're a bore. I'll admit that the maenad was pretty scary, though.

Characters

-- Barry the bellboy is introduced. He works at the vampire hotel, the Silent Shore, and is the first person Sookie meets who can read minds just like she does.

-- Tara Thornton, Sookie's high school friend, is introduced. She is attending the sex club in order to please her fiance, Benedict "Eggs" Tallie.

-- Mike Spencer (also mentioned in book one), is a funeral director and the Bon Temps coroner.

-- A goblin doctor whose name I'm blanking out heals Sookie's back, with help from every vampire at Fangtasia.

-- We meet (or see more of) Merlotte's waitresses Holly and Danielle, who are best friends. We also meet another member of local law enforcement, detective Alcee Beck.

-- Fangtasia has a new bartender, Chow, who is Long Shadow's replacement.

-- When Bill and Sookie break up, he briefly dates Portia Bellefleur. Portia isn't all that interested in Bill; she is doing it for Andy, who is trying to track down the local sex club. When their grandmother, Mrs. Bellefleur, thanks Sookie for helping solve Lafayette's murder, Bill realizes he is Andy and Portia's great-great-great grandfather.

-- There is a brief mention of a vampire nest in New Orleans that lasted two centuries. I took that as a sideways and rather delightful Anne Rice reference.

Television Series Notes

Obviously, the big difference between book 2 and season 2 is that Lafayette Reynolds is (1) not killed, and (2) is Tara Thornton's cousin. Jason is only peripheral to the story and doesn't join the Fellowship. The series writers combined the maenad story with the orgy story, which actually made a lot of sense but maybe didn't work out as well as they hoped. Godric/Godfrey is still a very old, Roman vampire who was turned very young, but he is not Eric's maker and doesn't even know Eric. Understandably, there was a lot of book fan disappointment (including my own) that the Sookie/Eric orgy sequence and the amping up of their romantic involvement was omitted.

In closing...

Living Dead in Dallas is not quite as strong as Dead Until Dark, but it is still a fast, fun, enjoyable read. My review of the next book, Club Dead, will be posted mid-December.

Important notice! After eleven books and four seasons of the series, I have no idea what kind of spoiler limitations to put on the comments section under these circumstances -- so I'm not going to put any. It's a spoiler free for all! If you're new to the books and haven't seen all of the television series True Blood, reading the comments may, and probably will, spoil you. Read on at your own risk!
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Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.

2 comments:

CrazyCris said...

Great review Billie! I re-read the 4th book to write my comparison of it to last season, but I haven't re-read any of the others since they came out. Much as I enjoyed the stories (even though I think the writing isn't all that great), not enough to read them again! Well, I probably will to write another post on Season 5. ;o)

I had completely forgotten the orgy storyline from this book... I thought they pretty much invented the whole Maryanne thing for the show!

And I'm wondering since the TV series made Godric Eric's maker, what will they do when his maker in the book shows up? :o)

And I'm team Eric all the way! Bill is too blah. :p

Juliette said...

Totally agree about Bill and Eric, of course, but I can see why the TV people took their time more.TV!Bill is a bit more caring than Book!Bill anyway, and Sookie's behaviour in the book is a little bit on the edge of the cheating line - when they make out on the car towards the end in particular. Without being in her head knowing that she's thinking 'this is just for cover', there'd be a danger of it looking like she's just cheating on Bill. Also, I'm not sure I'm ready for the actual visual of Eric in pink lycra!

My absolute favourite part of this book is the part where Sookie asks Eric, a vampire who's already got a blood bond with her through devious (though IIRC slightly less overtly dodgy than the TV version) means, and who she knows wants to have her, and while her boyfriend's away, she calls asks him to escort her to an orgy as a bodyguard. Eric turns up and she says she trusts him. He replies 'That's... crazy'. Yes! Yes it is.

Though awesome, of course. She should have just dropped Bill for Eric in the first place.