I was an early fan of Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series. In fact, you'll find glowing review quotes from me on the covers of some of them. But I’ve been a bit disappointed with the last several volumes as the story seemed to be stumbling even as Alan Ball mangled and mauled it in HBO’s “True Blood.”
There’s good news and bad news in the latest book, “Deadlocked” ($27.95, Ace). The good news is that things seem to be back on track by the end. The bad news is you’ve got to work to get there.
Felipe de Castro, vampire king of Nevada and Louisiana, has come to Shreveport to interview Eric and Sookie, among others, to try to discover the fate of his general Victor Madden. Things go very wrong for Eric, though, when a body is found on his front lawn after a party with Felipe in attendance – the body of a woman that he was feeding on moments earlier. The girl was part were and laced with fairy blood to make her irresistible to Eric, and no one seems to know how she got on the premises.
Meanwhile, there’s more drama on the fairy side of Sookie’s family. Claude has disappeared with Niall, and the fae who have gathered at his bar, Hooligans, are becoming restless without his leadership, threatening Sookie with another crisis.
“Deadlocked,” sadly, begins where “Dead Reckoning” left off – without focus. The first chapter is a meandering, seemingly pointless description of every stripper’s performance on Ladies’ Night at Hooligans. There is some set up included, but much of it feels an awful lot like padding to add some length to the book. If it hadn’t been for the return of Niall at the end of the chapter, I might have quit there. It’s not the last scene that feels like filler, either.
It’s seemed to me over the past several books that Harris had run out of story for Sookie but still has books to write, so the tale stumbles forward without the focus and action that it had in the earlier volumes. There’s more evidence for that here, as the first two-thirds of “Deadlocked” continue to stagger around in a daze like someone who has had too much vampire blood.
At about that point, Harris drops a nice little bomb on readers and things start to pick up. She does, it seems, know how the story ends in book 13, and you can almost feel things snap back into focus at the end of this one. That’s good news.
To be honest, if the end of this book had been the end of the series, I would have been OK with it. The threads are starting to come together, and I do believe that the final book will be much better than the last few and give fans closure on the story. I think Harris has finally gotten back to her original storyline for the series, and I’m actually looking forward to it a little more than I did this one or the one before.
If, on the other hand, Harris decides to sign up for another few books in this series, I’ll likely be just as done with the original version as I am with “True Blood.”
Here’s hoping Harris will give us a conclusion to the series that leaves us with fond memories of it and wash away the few books that limped along to get us there.