Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

(Southern Vampire Mysteries, #1)
Urban Fantasy

Sookie Stackhouse is a small-town cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. She's quiet, keeps to herself, and doesn't get out too much. Not because she's not pretty. She is. It's just that, well, Sookie has this sort of 'disability.' She can read minds. And that doesn't make her too datable. And then comes along Bill. He's tall, dark, handsome - and Sookie can't hear a word he's thinking. He's exactly the kind of guy she's been waiting for all her life...

But Bill has a disability of his own. He's a vampire with a bad reputation. He hangs with a seriously creepy crowd, all suspected of - big surprise - murder. And when one of Sookie's coworkers is killed, she fears she's next...

 “The world seemed a bad and terrible place, all its denizens suspect, and I the lamb
wandering through the valley of death with a bell around my neck.”

Mwhahahahaha, finally - finally! - another vampire series that's not just good, but great. This cute and cozy mystery packs quite a whollop in it's short form, with a marvelously different story, genuinely warm characterization, and amusing injections.

Sookie is a delight to read about, as she's young and fiesty, holding a cute curiosity about the 'dark side', cursed with a bad reputation of being a freak. Weighed down by the small town's perception of her, she lives at home with her Grandmother and works at a local bar. Not your traditional heroine so far, it's even odder when she can read minds, but hates the ability as it only brings her trouble. Bill the vampire is the typical irresistible type, yet thankfully speaks in normal dialogue and not old-world fancy Vampire lingo. Eric the vampire appealed to me strongly, and I hope to see more of him in upcoming books. The same goes for Sam the bartender. You have to love series where you fall in love with all the main players :) There is also the introduction of a 'bodyguard' that's so over the top it's borderline ridiculous.

The two together form a cute pair, but not so cute to where it's obnoxious or too light to be taken seriously. Don't get me wrong - there's plenty of seriousness in this book. From murder to two terribly sad events, there's also the bizarre vampire groupings. It's not as bloody as The Anita Blake series, but it does have it's share of violence.

The mystery was a twisted one, but there are not many clues and traditional mystery footprints. The culprit did surprise me, but I was so engrossed with the rest of the story I didn't spare much mind to figure out the villain anyway. Will that put off routine mystery readers? Maybe. The story is involved with many sub-plots, the bulk of it romantic, with emphasis on dysfunctional family, Sookie's feelings of being different, obstacles from outside forces, and then the mystery of the murders. With a book only 260 pages long, that's a lot to cover, no part able to dominate the story's time by itself. Generally I prefer books where several things are happening at once, so it clicked with me.

On the romance side, it's not the sort of book where hero and heroine fall deeply in love and forget everything else as they set sail toward a sea of eternal bliss. They're plagued with chronic problems and hurdles to cross, internal doubts of the nature of their pairing, issues about the future they're choosing to ignore - for now - as they settle down to explore each other. The two match in a sweet way as the vampire searches for a home, weary from travel, and the telepath yearns for peace with someone whose mind she CAN'T read.

It's hard to think of negatives with this one, as it was so enjoyable. After it was over, I'm so determined to dive into the sequels I'm becoming obsessive. But to be objective here, even if it did have a dark tone, some may be turned off by the light and cute world. Sookie doesn't seem very consistent in her thoughts about sex and love, either. At slight times her southern way of speech gnawed a nerve, especially with the phrase, "He's gonna know I'm not normal." I don't know why, but reading 'gonna' usually pains me. Comparisons to Hamilton are inevitable, being that there are vampires considered legal, but I see plenty of changes here to make it stand as a completely different series and not another copycat.

If you can't already tell, I loved this story. Addictive characters gave a much-needed boost to a dying sub-genre that needs more exploration before it's buried. Paired with a clever mystery, the relationships are as addictive as the villains unveiling.

   Book Quotes:

“Woo woo, secret vampire stuff!” 

“There was enough tension in the room to send a fleet of the nervous running for their tranquilizers.”  

“You can get more skilled, Sookie, but can't get any better.”

   Reviews of the Series: