Review of Dead Reckoning – Book 11 of the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris

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So… with the TV adaptation of this series by HBO acclaimed by both critics and fans and as yet another volume hits the bookshelves, the question has to be – has Harris managed to give us yet another slice of Sookie magic? Is she able to still deliver the freshness and appeal of our favourite cocktail waitress after she’s been through more scary adventures than you’d want in a lifetime?

Sookie Stackhouse is a cocktail waitress in Bon Temps, Louisiana. It’s a job that has its own challenges, but now the vampires and thedead reckoning shapeshifters are finally ‘out’, you’d think the supernaturals would get on with each other. But nothing is that simple in Bon Temps! …and Sookie has a knack for being in trouble’s way; not least when she witnesses the firebombing of Merlotte’s, the bar where she works. Since Sam Merlotte is known to be two-natured, suspicion immediately falls on the anti-shifters in the area. Sookie suspects otherwise, but before she can investigate something else – something even more dangerous comes up.

Sookie’s lover, Eric Northman and his ‘child’ Pam are plotting something in secret. Whatever it is, they seem determined to keep Sookie out of it, almost as determined as Sookie is to find out what is going on. She can’t sit on the sidelines when both her work and her love life are under threat – but as their plans gradually become clear, Sookie finds the situation is deadlier than she could ever have imagined.

And there you have it. As you’ll have gathered from the blurb, Harris is still capable of delivering a plot full of narrative tension and adventure as Sookie is plunged once more into the heart of vampire politics. As the plot drew me in and once more whisked me off into Bon Temps alongside Sookie, I was once more filled with admiration at how adroitly Harris avoids pitfalls other less able writers nosedive into. For starters, Harris doesn’t assume that everyone who picks up Dead Reckoning has read any or all of the previous books in the series. There is the odd explanatory sentence slipped in as to who all the characters are and a quick mention of a previous incident – also very handy for the more forgetful of her fans. And – even more importantly – Harris ensures right at the start of the book, there is a scene featuring Sookie in trouble to bond her with the readers, either for the first time or reintroduce her to those of us who have read one or three other books since the last time we lost ourselves in a Sookie adventure… It’s a neat trick. One I wish other multi-book authors would use more often (Jim Butcher, John Scalzi, C.J. Cherryh and Lois McMaster Bujold are among the honourable exceptions who also successfully employ this strategy). It’s exasperating to wade through a sequel with a boring protagonist I really cared about in the first book, because the author hasn’t made the effort to establish that main character with the readership, again.

I’ve always enjoyed Sookie’s character and the bone-dry humour threading through the books – and this book continues to deliver, as we see her on one hand wandering around with a handbag full of stakes while planning a baby shower for her friend, Tara. I enjoy the tension between all the supernatural happenings and Sookie’s efforts to keep on top of the housework and going to work. No one else manages to weave the mundane and weird together so well, heightening one with the everyday contrast and sharpening our sympathy with someone who also struggles to keep her house clean and tidy…

I was slightly startled to register that I plucked this book off the shelf marked ‘Horror’. Of course it is a judgement call – one person’s urban fantasy is another person’s horror, but I do worry whether the steamy, blood-soaked depiction of Bon Temps by the folks at HBO are skewing expectations of this delightful series. Yes, Sookie’s sexual encounters are described, but Harris isn’t anything like as graphic as many other writers in the sub-genre – and certainly doesn’t go in for a blow-by-blow account of the naked writhings HBO insists on showing us. While I do think that HBO have absolutely nailed the sense of the world and have managed to get Sookie, Bill, Eric and Pam physically very close to Harris’s creations, a lot of the humour that leavens the horror is missing.

While I’ll continue to tune into True Blood, I still feel that the TV series is lacking some of the best elements of the books. This is one of a handful of worlds I happily reread, and the latest offering, Dead Reckoning, still delivers Sookie with all her vivid Southern charm.

10/10

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