Wednesday, March 3, 2010

vampires, fairies, finding the dead

Niki Bruce reviews two books from supernatural thriller author Charlaine Harris.

THE edgy, punchy, sexy series that is True Blood on HBO may have finished its second season in Singapore, but if you're still after tales of vampires, werewolves and fairies you can get stuck into Charlaine Harris' collected short stories about Sookie Stackhouse with A Touch of Dead.

A Touch of Dead has five stories based on the world of Sookie Stackhouse, the human who can read minds, dates vampires and whose brother is a were-panther. The original Sookie stories are now being translated in to an award-winning series on HBO and stars Anna Paquin as Sookie.

As Harris says in her introduction to the collection, Sookie's world is a complex and complicated one and the author was concerned about attempting to condense it into the short story format. She even admits that some of her efforts were more successful than others but, also says that she enjoyed the exercise:
"It's been hard to fit the stories into Sookie's larger history without leaving seams. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes not. In this edition, I've tried to smooth out the edges of the story that was the most fun to write but wouldn't fit in its chronological hole no matter how I pounded (Dracula Night)."
Dracula Night sees the local vampire bar, Fangtasia, celebrating Prince Dracula's birthday – kind of like the vampire version of Christmas. The twist is that their hero may actually attend the event. Eric Northman, Sookie's sometime lover in the later books of the series but still an unknown enemy in the TV version, is particularly enamoured of the idea of a visit from Prince Dracula. Needless to say, Sookie manages to get an invite and happens to be in the right place at the right time once again.

What is interesting reading these stories is that the characters now take on the visual images of the actors who portray them on TV. Sometimes this works, Paquin is a good choice for Sookie; sometimes it doesn't. Still, it can be a little off-putting.

But the generally light-hearted stories in A Touch of Dead are a great antidote to the heavily detailed and often emotionally tortured stories of Harris' Sookie Stackhouse books. There's a bit of death in Fairy Dust – when fairy siblings who work at a strip joint (don't ask) go after a murderer – there's some magic in Lucky – when a local witch tries to do the right thing and ends up doing the opposite and some raunchy sex in Gift Wrap – which is just that, a gift wrapped in some sexy packaging.

If you love the Sookie Stackhouse series then it's worth getting your hands on A Touch of Dead to have the whole set and to while away the time until Harris produces the next novel in the series.

A busy author, Harris has also just released the latest book in her other supernatural series about Harper Connelly, Grave Secret.

Harper, like Sookie, is human but she's been touched by the supernatural; Harper can feel the dead. It doesn't matter how old they are, Harper can find sense their graves and, in doing so, find out how they died.

Needless to say, she's useful if you're a police officer but not if you're a murderer, so she's generally getting into trouble, one way or another.

Harper travels with her 'brother' Tolliver, who is also her lover. But before it gets too icky; they're not actually related to each other, being step-siblings from an unholy union of two drug addicts, they have looked after each other all their lives.

Grave Secrets sees the pair return to their hometown for the first time in years in an attempt to trace their missing older sister, Cameron. Picking up some work at the same time, Harper discovers that a very rich man may have had an illegitimate child – that may also have been murdered.

Tolliver's former drug addict, ex-prisoner father is also back on the scene and as family complications ensue, the pair get shot at, chased and learn the terrible truth about what may have happened to their sister.

Harris' skill at making her characters and their stories approachable and 'real' is what makes her supernatural-themed stories more substantial than the usual 'sexy vampire' pap that seems everywhere these days.

Sookie is a real person; she's insecure, funny, caring and looking for love. Harper is just as real; she's in love, damaged by her past and coming to terms with her future.

The fact that both women have special 'talents' doesn't make them any less real for the reader who likes to dream that there's a wider world of wonder out there.

Grave Secret by Charlaine Harris is published by Gollancz and is available from good book stores and online. A Touch of Dead by Charlaine Harris is also published by Gollancz and available from good book stores and online.

First published on The Straits Times blogs on November 12, 2009



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