DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

by Charlaine Harris
Ace/ $5.95/ 272 pages
ISBN: 0441008534

Reading DEAD UNTIL DARK you start imagining author Charlaine Harris as the love child of Laurell K. Hamilton and Joe R. Lansdale -- with maybe Tanya Huff and P.N. Elrod as baby-sitters. Although as entertaining as all get out, her "humorous vampire mystery with a romantic element" novel is not just another night-hearted romp with our favorite undead. It's also the story of two misfits trying to fit into a world -- and a relationship -- that's not entirely comfortable for either of them.

Vampires are, in Harris's world, a recently enfranchised minority whose undiluted blood has become the drug du jour. On the black market a vial of vampiric vital fluid -- which supposedly "temporarily relieves symptoms of illness and increase sexual potency, kind of like prednisone and Viagra rolled into one" -- goes for about $200. Waitress Sookie Stackhouse is just delighted when a tall dark handsome and pale vampire shows up at one of her tables. Seems Sookie's been hoping for such to show up in the small Northern Louisiana town of Bon Temps ever since the undead were legally recognized. It's not the allure of immortality or even sensual attractiveness that turns her on. She's charmed by the fact that she can't read his mind. Sookie, y'all see, can read minds. Her "disability" makes it a mite hard for a girl -- even an attractive 25-year-old blonde -- to date. In fact, everyone in town pretty much thinks she's crazy. Sometimes, surrounded by other people's thoughts humming like an out-of-whack boomboxes, Sookie thinks so, too.

Cover Sookie pulls an anti-Buffy and saves the vampire -- Bill, yes, Bill -- from some scumbag blood drainers and quickly discovers she can't "hear" a thing unless he actually speaks to her. Relationships have started with less.

Bill turns out to have local roots and has returned to settle down in Bon Temps where he's inherited family land. Considering Bill served in the Civil War and turned vampire in 1870, those roots go back quite a spell. This delights Sookie's Gran, a dedicated member of the local chapter of Descendants of the Glorious Dead. Bill can supply details that put her in "genealogical hog-heaven" and will impress the stuffing out of her club.

But bliss is not so easily attained. When two young women are murdered and fang-marks are found on their thighs, it looks like the murderer is a vampire and Bill's the prime suspect. Or maybe it's Jason, Sookie's sexy brother who has a way, a slightly kinky way, with a lot of women. Bill and Sookie (with some help, including from a vampire named Bubba) must turn detective to solve the crimes and find the real villain.

As wacky as it all sounds, Harris is an intelligent writer and perceptive readers might glimpse some interesting future intent. Bill and Sookie are going to face some big challenges to their relationship if the series continues (A sequel is in the works and Harris has written two mystery series.) Along with exploring this particular vampire rationale and the mystery of Sookie's mind-reading power, there's also room to develop an interesting look at America's consumer society. Ace should give Charlaine Harris plenty of room and the assurance of a multi-book contract. Harris's Sookie has the potential to attract more readers than Hamilton's Anita Blake. (May 2001) -- Paula Guran (From "Waves of Fear", Cemetery Dance #36

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.