Charlaine Harris, Club Dead (Ace 2003)
Charlaine Harris' Club Dead is the third in her series of "Southern Vampire" novels, preceded by Dead Until Dark and Living Dead in Dallas, both of which were previously reviewed for Green Man Review by my colleague Michael M. Jones. As Michael makes clear in his well-done reviews, these books are not your standard vampire books. The heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, a barmaid in rural Northern Louisiana, is self-educated from genre books and her word-a-day calendar. She's also a telepath, something which in general she views as a disability.
Sookie is not an Anita Blake clone, though if you like Laurel K. Hamilton's books, you'll probably like Sookie. She's an interesting, strong and self-aware character and not at all derivative. She struggles with her sometimes rough relationship with "Vampire Bill" Compton, a Civil War veteran who first attracted Sookie simply because she couldn't read his mind. That said, Club Dead, while quite capable of standing on its own, does suffer from "series-itis" in that it doesn't end with all the issues solved -- the book begins with Sookie and Bill's relationship in trouble, and that issue isn't resolved at the end, though the related mysteries and murder that bookend Bill and Sookie's relationship are neatly tied up.
At the start of the book, Sookie is a bit miffed because she comes home from a hard day's work at Merlotte's bar in Bon Temps expecting to find her vampire sweetie Bill ready to lavish her with attention, but Bill can barely tear himself away from his computer to grunt "Hi," or even clean up the bottles of synthetic blood he's been drinking. It's been like that for the last couple of months. But then Bill is kidnapped because of a secret project he's been working on (for no less than the vampire Queen of Louisiana). Sookie is convinced by Eric Northman, the vampire leader of "Area 5" of Louisiana and Bill's boss, to go undercover and "listen" to see if she can pick up any leads about Bill's precise location in Jackson, Mississippi.
He also tells Sookie that Bill has been unfaithful to her, carrying on a clandestine affair with another vampire (and a former amour) named Lorena, for several weeks. It's not really acceptable for two vampires to have a sexual relationship, but Bill apparently found Lorena irresistible. Knowing he's been cheating on her, and had plans to provide for her financially when he broke off their relationship, doesn't make Sookie feel any better about the way Bill seems to have abandoned her. Nonetheless, she is infuriated to learn that Lorena is the one who betrayed Eric to the Jackson vampires, whose king is keen to acquire Bill's secret project. The king is keen enough, in fact, to have sent a Werewolf and gang member after Sookie in a kidnap attempt that is only just foiled by Bubba, the slightly dim vampire better known in life as a musician from Tupelo.
In the meantime, where's Bill? ... and Lorena, for that matter?
Sookie grows as a character in Club Dead, becoming stronger physically and metaphysically, but largely growing as a person. She still struggles with ethical questions, with the reality of loving a vampire, and with her "disability," as she still thinks of her telepathy. Harris, a talented writer of three other mystery series, has something very unusual in Club Dead and the rest of the "Sookie Stackhouse" series (as Harris thinks of the books generally referred to as the "Southern Vampire" series). These books, as Michael M. Jones points out (in the reviews mentioned above), are "that rarest of mixed genres: Southern romantic vampire mystery." It's a blend that works in Harris' case, with a heroine who is down to earth, smart, funny and interesting, with enough fantasy world-building in terms of genuinely "other" vampires, Were, and shape-shifter sub-cultures to create a believably Fey reality.
[Lisa L. Spangenberg]
If you're curious about Harris' works, her Web site offers a bibliography and biography, and a link to an interview. You can also find her books in electronic form from Peanut Press.