Sookie Stackhouse lives in the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. She lives a fairly normal, boring life, and nothing much seems to happen from day to day, so she is fascinated by oddities, "collecting" them in her mind to mull over in quiet moments. So when a vampire walks into the bar where she works as a waitress, she is thrilled - particularly when he takes a seat in her section. In Sookie's world vampires are known to exist - and vampirism is said to be caused by a virus - but they are not usually seen in small towns like Bon Temps.
Sookie has what she calls a disability: she is able to read minds. At first glance it is difficult to understand why she would feel so negative about her "condition," but she explains in detail the many disadvantages. For one thing, everyone in town thinks she's crazy because she spends so much time trying to concentrate and keep her mental shields up when she's around other people that it becomes difficult to maintain coherent conversations. It makes dating a disaster, too - particularly when it comes to physical intimacy, and she can hear every thought, flattering and otherwise, that her date has about her.
When she talks with the vampire, though, she is astonished to find that his mind is one amazing, blessedly restful blank. Later, when she mentally "overhears" some other bar customers plotting his demise, an act that is immoral and illegal, as vampires have rights the same as regular humans, Sookie takes it on herself to help him out - and that decision will have life-altering consequences. As Sookie struggles to adjust to the new turn the course of her life has taken, the peace in Bon Temps is shattered by a series of gruesome murders.
I read this book when it first came out and found it an engaging supernatural mystery. I read several of the sequels, and enjoyed them as well, but somehow I have fallen behind in the series, and I decided to start reading it from the beginning. I listened to the audio version of this one, and I enjoyed Johanna Parker's narration very much. For some reason I remembered the book as being much funnier than it seemed to me this time around - Sookie is a resilient heroine, and she does find the humor in many situations, but she suffers such resounding loss, time and time again, that the book turned out to be quite a bit darker than I remembered.
Harris does an excellent job of setting up her alternate world, and the vampires are clearly creatures that are not human. Sookie is a likable heroine, young and inexperienced, true, but compassionate and intelligent, and one who quickly learns from her mistakes. The secondary characters pose intriguing possibilities. Bill, despite his distinctly unvampiric name, is rather inscrutable and appears to have his own agenda. Sam, Sookie's boss, has his own secrets and motivations. Sookie's grandmother is a delightful and refreshing depiction of an elderly southern women, and Jason, Sookie's handsome, irresponsible brother, is more complicated than he appears. It was Sookie's expressive voice, as the narrator, that really pulled me into this story and - even though I'd read it before - kept me anxious to return to it every time I put it down. I'm looking forward to another gripping listening experience with the second installment in this series.
Books in the Southern Vampire series:
1. Dead Until Dark
2. Living Dead in Dallas
3. Club Dead
4. Dead to the World
5. Dead as a Doornail
6. Definitely Dead
7. Altogether Dead
8. From Dead to Worse
9. Dead and Gone
10. A Touch of Dead (Sookie Stackhouse: The Complete Stories) - to be published October 2009
Dead Until Dark (#1 in the Southern Vampire series) by Charlaine Harris; read by Johanna Parker (Recorded Books, 2007)
Also reviewed at:
The Novel World: "The characters are cleverly written and Sookie is a hilarious heroine throughout the novel."
Romance Rookie: " I enjoyed the mystery and the slow unveiling of how things work with the vampires."
Sam's Book Blog: "This is a paranormal romance wrapped up into a mystery. It was a fun story for me."