Review: Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris

Dead Until Dark
Charlaine Harris
Paranormal/Mystery
2008 – this edition
Ace Books
ISBN: 978-0-44101-699-0 (paperback) and 978-1-42816-086-6 (audiobook)
292 pages; 9 hours, 26 minutes

Dead Until Dark is the first novel in Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries. You might be familiar with the HBO series based on these books, True Blood. I’m not (yet) a True Blood watcher, and I’m new to the Sookie Stackhouse universe, but ho boy, am I hooked.

I started off listening to Dead Until Dark as an audio book while on a road trip, and finished the story with the paperback when we got home. Of the audio book, let me say that I loved the narrator, Joanna Parker. She had the perfect Southern drawl and the pacing and phrasing I’m accustomed to hearing down here. Not everyone can pull this off, so kudos to Ms. Parker; she voices Sookie quite well. I wasn’t as fond of her portrayals of the male characters, but, since this is Sookie’s story and is told from her point of view, it works.

I know that these are, in addition to being paranormal stories, mysteries, but between you, me, and the Internet, I’m not a big reader of mysteries–my teenage Agathe Christie binge aside, they don’t usually grab me. Dead Until Dark is definitely a mystery, but for me, that aspect took a back seat to the supernatural parts. Good for me, though I’m not sure how an avid mystery reader might react.

I really, really enjoy Sookie’s voice in this series. She’s old enough to know who she is and have a set idea of what is right or wrong, but not so old that she’s set in her ways and unable to adapt the events she finds herself in. I love the fact that she considers her telepathy a disability, and that she’s quite firm in her belief that it is a defect. It is a skill that so many people would, hypothetically, love to have, but we learn from the get go that she doesn’t want it, doesn’t want the potential to have power over others, doesn’t want to know everybody’s secrets. This makes her hugely appealing. I’m a sucker for a protagonist who doesn’t want the power they have. I don’t generally relate to the power-hungry.

I very much appreciate, too, that Sookie’s first instinct is to do the right thing, be it helping a friend out, accommodating family, or helping someone desperately in need of help. She does these things because they are the right thing to do, not because she expects recompense or attention–and she manages not to be sanctimonious about it. She hates to complain, doesn’t whine, and moves forward. It’s just what she does, and it becomes clear that this nose to the grindstone, no nonsense outlook is a defining trait of hers. it is a familiar ethic, one I associate with my blue-collar and working-class family members.

On the whole, Dead Until Dark is a fun read. Having the story filter through Sookie’s perception means that we get just enough detail, but nothing over the top. So any violence is described, but not to the point of being horrifying, any sexual encounters, again, are described, but not in the explicit detail you might find elsewhere. There’s a nice balance there that I appreciate. I get the impression that the television show takes both the violent and sexual aspects and revels in them, so I was glad when I found that not to be the case here.

There are a few, small nitpicky things here and there that drew me out of the story (for example, Sookie reminds the audience several times that she can keep her face impassive in light of upsetting and disturbing news because she’s had years of practice, as a telepath, not reacting to the shocking things she’s seen in people’s minds), but I very much enjoyed this novel, and immediately started reading book two, Living Dead in Dallas – which I’ll review in the near future. You’ll probably be getting the whole series reviewed here, since I just started reading book nine.

Visit the author’s Web site.

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About Jessica

Dork extraordinaire, that's me! An unhealthy knowledge of Star Trek, a love of books, a fondness for purring cats.
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6 Responses to Review: Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris

  1. Jon says:

    A friend of mine and his wife had been watching the True Blood series on tv and, knowing I was an avid fantasy reader, started telling me all about it, then mentioned that it was based on a series of books. As soon as I got home, I went out and bought Dead Until Dark, and over the next six weeks, I read all of the Sookie stuff, plus everything else I could find that Charlaine Harris had written.
    I think that the minor flaws in the books that are distracting are just a result of her cranking them out so quickly and some lackadaisical editing. I really need to pick up the latest Sookie book, but I’m waiting to add the paperback to my collection.

  2. Jessica says:

    I just read the most recent Sookie novel, Dead in the Family. I decided I couldn’t wait for it to come out in paperback, so I picked it up from the library – though I think I’ll still buy it when it’s released in mass market paperback so I can have to whole series on my shelf. I think this is one of those series that I’ll be coming back to reread (especially since I read them so fast this week…it’s all one big blurry story to me).

    It amazes me to see how quickly these stories, as well as her other mysteries, are being written. I think you’re right – it probably does contribute to some of the small inconsistencies and flaws. Given Harris’ productivity, though, they really are minor.

    Now that I’ve read the Sookie books, I’m very curious about the show. I’ll have to borrow the DVDs from friends or Netflix or something. I just worry I’ll get cranky at the inevitable changes!

  3. Loni says:

    I loved Dead Until Dark and the rest of the series, though I’ve only read up to book eight. I agree with your review. I like that Sookie thinks of her gift as a disability and she isn’t hungry for power. She just wants a normal life, a life I’m not sure she’ll ever be able to have.

    • Jessica says:

      I think Sookie getting a normal life is about like Buffy getting a normal life–a very pleasant idea, but ultimately a pipe dream. The moment Sophie-Anne Leclerq became aware of her, Sookie was bound to be involved in the supernatural somehow.

      And really, given her “disability,” the closest to normal she’d be able to get is to marry a shifter or were – and that’s not really normal. Though she could have the white picket fence and kids that way, if she really wanted. (I fell in love with Quinn in Definitely Dead, and was bummed at their split in book eight.)

  4. Pingback: Everyone Loves a Lover « Bay State Reader's Advisory: Reading Suggestions from a Massachusetts Librarian

  5. Laurie C says:

    Just wanted to let you know I linked to your review of Dead Until Dark on my Bay State Reader’s Advisory blog today.
    I liked the audio version of the Dead Until Dark, too, although being from Massachusetts, I wasn’t sure how true the Southern accent was. It sounded Southern to me. 😉 It was the first Charlaine Harris book that I had read. I’m interested in trying one of her Aurora Teagarden books now. I don’t read many light mysteries, but they’re good for listening to on the drive back and forth to work.

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