Sunday, June 19, 2005

Review: "Dead as a Doornail" by Charlaine Harris

Often I say that picking up a new book in a favorite series is like visiting an old, familiar place. In this case, it's very familiar. Charlaine Harris' town of Bon Temps may not actually exist, but you know the town and you know the people in it - well, except for the vampires and werewolves, of course.

"Dead as a Doornail" ($22.95, Ace) is the fifth novel in Harris' "Southern Vampire" series, and I've enjoyed every one tremendously, in part due to the familiarity. Bon Temps, if it existed, would be out on the backroads, roughly somewhere between Ruston and Monroe. Harris drops in a lot of nice references to familiar places. But, as I said, even the things that aren't real are recognizable. For example, everyone knows a simple, no-nonsense woman like Harris' Sookie Stackhouse, though the one you know is probably not a mind-reader.

This time out, there's a shooter targeting shape-shifters in the area, a group that Sookie's brother Jason has lately joined against his will, thanks to a bite from a shifter. The police think the shootings are random and only a few people know the truth, since the shifter community hasn't gone public like vampires. What's worse, many in the shifter community are suspicious of Jason and some have even called for his execution.

As if that weren't enough for her to deal with, a pair of private investigators come snooping around trying to find out what Sookie knows about the disappearance of one Debbie Pelt from Jackson, Miss. She knows quite a lot about it actually, since Sookie was the one who shot and killed the shifter in self-defense. Having only the word of the amnesiac vampire that took a bullet intended for Sookie, she decided to let him cover it up instead of reporting it - not one of her brightest moments, and one that may come back to haunt her.

There are also entanglements in Sookie's love life. Her former vampire boyfriend Bill returns. An interesting new vampire bartender Charles arrives to fill in at her workplace. A surprising romance blooms with her boss Sam, and Shreveport businessman Alcide Herveaux has a proposal for her. And that's not even all that's going on in this book.

"Dead as a Doornail" is perhaps the most complex book so far in the series. Harris introduces us to more characters and gives us a closer look at the were/shape-shifter communities. There are also many more small threads woven into the tale than in previous stories, some offering interesting lines for future volumes.

We also see for the first time a more vulnerable Sookie. Her waffling between love interests at first makes her seem more wishy-washy than the tough cookie we've seen in previous books. On second thought, though, all good heroes have at least one major failing, and perhaps we've just found hers.

Where the tone of the previous installments has been more light-hearted and humorous, "Dead as a Doornail" takes a darker turn - one which actually started at the end of the last book, "Dead to the World." While there's always been an element of danger to the books, it seems even more palpable in this one, and the jokes take a back seat.

It's still a heck of a lot of fun, though. If you haven't read Harris' novels, you might want to check one out. You never know what's roaming the backroads of our area.

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