Southern Vampire Mystery Series by Charlaine Harris

29 04 2009

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Last summer, Alan Ball had a new show premiere on HBO, True Blood.  He’s a genius, I have a weakness for vampire stories, and HBO did a bang-up job promoting the series – so, of course, I started watching and was quickly sucked in to the lives of Sookie, Bill, Sam, Jason and the rest of the Bon Temps residents.  Since the show was based on a series of books, I decided to go ahead and do some original source research.  And now I’m absolutely obsessed.

The books revolve around Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress in a small northern Louisiana town who just happens to be telepathic.  The series starts two years after vampires have “come out of the coffin” – thanks to a synthetic blood developed by some Japanese scientists, they no longer have to hunt humans.  One night, Vampire Bill walks into Sookie’s bar/restaurant, she discovers she can’t hear his thoughts and they quickly start a relationship.  While all of this is going on, someone is killing women in Bon Temps, and Sookie ends up using her telepathy to try and find the murderer.  This sets up the basic stories for the rest of the books – Sookie solves a mystery while trying to navigate the crazy world of supernatural beings.

The first book, Dead Until Dark, was a bit of a chore to read – the story line is very similar to the first season of True Blood, although the show takes quite a few liberties with the characters – so it was little disorienting.  Plus, the books are written from Sookie’s perspective – and I couldn’t get Anna Paquin’s absolutely dreadful accent out of my head.  (I swear, she sounds like she learned her “southern” accent from watching Varsity Blues.  I kept expecting her to shout “AHH DOOON’T WAAAAHNT YUUR LAAAAAHF” at someone.)  As I’ve progressed in the series, “book Sookie” has very much separated from “speech impediment Sookie” and I’ve found that I really like her.  She starts out seeming pretty weak, but really comes into her own over time.

Charlaine Harris, the author, also improves as the series goes on.   It takes awhile for some serious character development to happen, and there are a lot of characters, but Ms. Harris maintains them pretty well.  As the secondary characters get more depth the books really gain some momentum. The plots pick up steam – growing from fairly simple whodunnits into books with a bit more meat on their bones, focusing on Sookie’s relationships with the various humans and “supes” in her life.  And, if you watched the TV series, there is a lot less sexytime in the books.  It still has a “romance” element, but, especially in the later books, physical stuff gets put on the back burner.

So, yeah, I definitely recommend these if you tend to enjoy fun, easy reads.  The books aren’t very long, don’t take too much time to read and once they take off, they’re near impossible to put down.  I know that this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re looking for some decent beach books, you could definitely do worse.  But – as Maria taught the Von Trapp children, you must start at the very beginning, this is not a series you can jump into halfway through even if it starts out rough.  And luckily for me, book 9, Dead and Gone, comes out in a couple of weeks and I’ll be able to get my Sookie-fix.

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