Posted on November 3, 2010 by Billzilla
With the new season of Trueblood beginning soon, I thought it was a good time to take a look at the books that inspired the popular HBO series, starting with a collection of short stories – an excellent way to evaluate the world of Sookie Stackhouse for one’s self.
For those who may not know, True Blood is based on a series of novels by Charlaine Harris. The main character of these books, Sookie Stackhouse, is a barmaid in a fictional Northern Louisiana small town called Bon Temps. Sookie has a rare talent; she’s a telepath. As much curse as blessing, her telepathic ability meant she always knew what everyone around her was thinking – both god and bad. Sookie had resigned herself to a lonely existence when “V-Day” happened. Japanese scientists perfected a synthetic blood, and vampires – no longer needing to attack humans to survive – one day formally announced themselves to the world, along with their intention to live side-by-side with humans.
In the first novel of the series, Dead Until Dark, Sookie discovers that vampires are a void to her; she can only very rarely get any read on them at all, meaning when she’s in their company, she doesn’t have voices in her head – a state she longs for. When a vampire named Bill Compton – former Confederate veteran and resident of Bon Temps during his breathing days – turns up and turns on the charm, Sookie is hooked, and drawn into a world that will change her life forever.
A Touch of Dead is a short story collection, gathering Sookie Stackhouse tales from a number of anthologies where Bon Temps’ own resident mind-reader makes an appearance. Collected here for the first time, the tales reflect Sookie’s relationship with all of the supernatural entities she’s encountered; besides vampires, there are also werewolves, fairies, half-demon attorneys, and even a witch or two.
The first story, “Fairy Dust,” sees Sookie investigating the disappearance of an acquaintance’s sister. Her acquaintance, it turns out, is a fairy, and this fairy suspects foul play is involved. Sookie has to use telepathy to determine who’s telling the truth – and who has something to hide.
In “Dracula Night,” published in 2007 as part of the anthology Many Bloody Returns Sookie is invited to a party at a vampire-owned bar, Fangtasia, to celebrate the anniversary of Dracula’s birthday. The bar’s owner, Eric Northman, has himself been a vampire for over a thousand years, but holds the legendary count in very high regard. Eric, like Linus keeping vigil for the Great Pumpkin from the Peanuts comic strip, hopes that the mighty personage will grace his establishment this year. When Sookie arrives – dressed to the nines – she not only discovers that, as usual, there’s something about new bartender at Fangtasia that she doesn’t like, but also that the mighty Count appears to already be present – in disguise.
“One Word Answer” finds Sookie tending to yard work at night, with the help of a hapless but faithful vampire friend, Bubba. Bubba was once a celebrity, and was turned on his deathbed by a well-meaning vampire morgue attendant. Bubba used to be a famous singer with an equally famous home in Memphis, Tennessee, but is a bit addled these days, and gets upset if people ask him to sing from one of his many former hits. As Sookie and Bubba rake leaves and trim the hedges, large black car pulls into Sookie’s driveway, bringing unexpected guests and unfortunate news. Appearing originally in the anthology Bite, this story illustrates well how brutal world of vampires can be.
Sookie and her house-mate, the witch Amelia Broadway, investigate a case of someone seeming to have a grudge against insurance agents in Bon Temps in “Lucky.” There are many surprises in this story, not the least of which is that Sookie’s insurance agent’s daughter has a secret boyfriend, and the boyfriend has a few secrets of his own.
In the last story, “Gift Wrap,” Sookie is resigned to spending Christmas alone. After giving Bill Compton the boot, she discovers she has no one with whom to spend the holiday. Determined to not intrude on her friends’ Christmas celebrations, she busies herself around her own property. During a walk into her back woods, she discovers a surprise visitor, apparently badly wounded and on the run from some very angry werewolves. Sookie must decide what to do with this new guest – turn him over to the pack hunting him or protect him at the risk of her own life. “Gift Wrap”appeared first in the anthology Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, a collection of holiday-themed short stories.
This collection serves as an admirable introduction into the world of Sookie Stackhouse. Published in October 2009, it is not yet available in paperback as of this writing, but should be soon, and can also be found in hardcover and audio book editions. In the introduction, Ms. Harris admits that not all of the stories blend seamlessly with the overall storyline of the novels, and even that some of the stories don’t do the character justice as well as others. Regardless, Charlaine Harris’ writing is solid, and her characters are believable and have depth. In A Touch of Dead, she has produced a set of entertaining stories that give first-time readers a substantial taste of Sookie Stackhouse and her world, and give long-time fans more reason to love the character.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Review by Bill Bodden