Charlaine Harris's Dead in the Family, the tenth book in her Southern Vampire Mysteries or Sookie Stackhouse novels, finds our favorite blonde size-10 waitress post fae-war, in a tumultuous and passionate "marriage" with Eric Northman, living with her fairy-cousin Claude, and dealing with more mayhem than any human should, even a human with fairy blood!
Sookie's pluck has been taken down a notch or two thanks to the torture she suffered at the hands of a couple of psychotic fairies, the very same pair that killed her parents. Unforunately, the two managed to off Claudine, Sookie's fairy-cousin and a triplet to cousin Claude, now residing with Sookie. Claudine was sent by Sookie's fairy-prince of a great-grandfather, Niall, to be Sookie's fairy godmother...fairy god-cousin, well, you get the idea. Claudine was pregnant when she was killed which made her death all the more tragic, not just to Sookie, but to all the fae. Conception amongst fairies is rare in Harris's fictional world, and so is fairness.
Everyone connected to Sookie, without mercy, is either killed in some horrible way, tortured, irreparably altered, or maimed. Sookie says at the end of Harris's tenth novel that this ending was very Shakespearean...I beg to differ.
When multiple deaths occur at the end of every single novel, the reader, unlike the audiences of Shakespeare's tragedies, is repeatedly struck with a littany of losses that beg the question, where does it end? Obviously, the series must end in Sookie's own death--perhaps in a vampiric resurrection or a fade into Faery, or, with the finality of human mortality. Either way, Shakespeare's pen more definitively ended his tragedies. As Theseus indicated of the parodic "tragical mirth" within A Midsummer Night's Dream, when all the players are dead, there's no need for more words....
Important reveals include hints of Sookie's continued interest in Sam Merlotte who, like Sookie, is dating the "wrong" person; Bill is seemingly out of the way in a renewed relationship with an old vampire connection who (creepily) resembles his civil-war era human wife; Eric's real maker returns, Ocella, with his 13-year old lover (yuck) of Russian Romanov royalty; Pam and Sookie cement their odd friendship; Tara is pregnant with twins; Jason quickly got over the death of his pregnant albeit cheating wife and now lives with another woman; Matriarch, chocolate-cake-connoisseur and great-granddaughter to Bill Compton, Caroline Bellefleur, dies of natural causes; and, when Eric tells Sookie he loves her, she doesn't exactly respond in kind. Sadly, no were-tigers prowl through this latest novel but werewolves abound.
Five deaths and the promise of two more, along with infinite mutilations and maimings occur in the last 50 or so pages. All along, Sookie is impossibly pragmatic...calm, cool, and collected, even under the influence of shaman drugs. True Blood, the HBO adaptation by Alan Ball, is a total hit, now in its third season with recent confirmation of a fourth, and it's keeping Harris's hungry audience hungrier. While the TV show is managing to stay fresh (each season corresponds to a novel from the series and in that same order...with a twist a la Alan Ball, of course), the novels, now ten-fold, are becoming frustratingly repetitive with no end in sight.
The "pure" moments of the novel were few and far between, including Sookie's word-of-the-day calendar, her signature sunbathing, and the subtly pornographic scenes depicted by Harris that make up Sookie's strange love-life with even stranger creatures. So far, Sookie has dated and/or been intimate with two vampires, a shapeshifter, a were-tiger, and a werewolf...and that's only over the span of relatively few years in Sookie's fictional Bon Temps. Sookie Stackhouse, the "stacked" waitress who can read minds, is becoming the resident slut of the supernatural world, and all the while pretending to be a good "Jesus-Christ-Shephard-of-Judea" Christian girl with her dead grandmother as the conscience-of-convenience on her shoulder. A truly likable character has managed to devolve amidst her adversity...and in order to maintain her heroic status, Sookie must have a transformation of consciousness that leads to her mastery over the two worlds she resides in, both supernatural and human.
I imagine it would be nearly impossible to not fall into a repetitive, easy pattern when working on a book series like this--something similar to when you come home from a vacation and settle back into the old routine without even thinking much about it. And when you have a product that will sell no matter what, I also imagine that your editor and agent are not as much of a filter as they perhaps should be. Nor is anyone else.
I love Harris as a writer and as one of my many female heroes. She really performs literary miracles. While her work isn't meant for Pulitzer's or Pushcart Prizes, her simple words ring true. The accessible storylines speak to everyone. And the sex, well heck, I wouldn't mind seeing more of that but I suppose a mystery novel is more about the mystery than the romance (though Harris usually blends both well in what I would consider a totally new genre of "supernatural mysterio-sex fiction").
This book registers a 7 out of 10 on the Housel-meter. I recommend you read the book if you're a fan--how could you not??? But ultimately, the book starts off with a bang and ends with a fizzle. It's almost like Ms. Harris got tired the last third or so of the book--perhaps unsure how to end the tenth installment of what probably seems like a tedioiusly unending series to Harris who--as she recently noted in a Vanity Fair article--has been writing her books long before Stephenie Meyer reinvigorated the vampire craze in pop culture.
My best guess is, we see at least another two novels in the Sookie Stackhouse series, along with the continued side interest of related short-story collections by Harris and other authors. As for True Blood, perhaps we are looking at five to eight seasons total--eight being a faint possibility. Vampires, though immortal, must still rest for a bit. We've definitely lived through the time of the vampire, as my friend Naomi would say. But soon, all the vampires will go back to their coffins for a well-deserved rest...though perhaps not until AFTER Hollywood reinvents Anne Rice's Lestat for the silver screen...can you say "Robert Downey, Jr."??? ;)