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Review: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris

living dead in dallis harris Review: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris


She may live in a town with a population that could almost be counted on two hands, but the drama just doesnt let up for Sookie Stackhouse. Of course, being a night-shift waitress in one of the only bars in town is guaranteed to bring its fair share of challenges, and the whole pesky issue of being able to read minds doesnt help matters. Nor does dating a vampire. Still, despite her rather unfortunate moniker, Sookies not one to sook, and when Lafayette, the cook at the bar where she works, winds up dead, Sookie puts herself on the case. (Actually, to be honest, Sookie puts herself on everyones casetheres nary a soul in Bon Temps who doesnt fall victim to her lashing tongue and terrible fashion sense, but I digress). But Lafayette isnt the only dead guy around, and Sookie finds herself whisked off to do some perp-bustin in Dallas, where she somehow ends up at the mercy of an anti-vampire Christian fundamentalist group, and then in the midst of a swingers party, and then doing battle with a misandric maenid. Or something. These threads do eventually tie together, but I cant for the life of me figure out how, or why.

My thoughts

The stack of books beside my bed is so unreasonably high that Im well behind on the various bookish trends, and Im a touch embarrassed to admit that my first Sookie experience occurred only a few months ago (see my review). While admittedly I wasnt entirely enamoured of our minx-like protagonist and her willingness to throw herself in bed with perhaps one of the most horrid alpha males Ive come across in the paranormal romance genre, I thought Id give Ms Stackhouse a second try. Unfortunately, having slogged through the second in Harriss best-selling series, Im even more underwhelmed. These books come so close to being good, but time and time again they just fall short. I feel as though Sookies working her little waitress butt off attempting to follow in the footsteps of feminista Buffy, but theres just something about her, and about this series more generally, that just doesnt work for me.

Dead Until Dark, the first in the Sookie Stackhouse series, had some solid moments, and I picked up Living Dead in Dallas expecting a work that surpassed its predecessor by building on this base. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Sookie series has foundations roughly as stable as those of the leaning tower of Pisa, and Im afraid that this book would fail even the most cursory examination at the hands of a structural engineer. The novel suffers terribly from kitchen sink syndrome, with myriad unrelated plot lines running through it like the veins through a wall of sedimentary rock (did that sentence confuse you? I hope so, because thats how I felt reading this book). Structurally, Living Dead in Dallas reminds me of China Mievilles Iron Council, which is essentially two distinct narratives, the second of which is little more than cut-and-pasted into the first. While Sookie ostensibly sets out to determine the shenanigans that lead to Lafayettes death (an event that oddly doesnt perturb her in the leastis Sookie a sociopath along the lines of Dexter?) the plot, which is as crooked as a dogs hind leg, suddenly sees her jetsetting off to Texas to solve a mystery regarding a vampire no one really cares about this. What this has to do with Sookie, or with the main narrative arc, I have no idea, but it turns into a several hundred page long narrative detour thats about as concise and purposeful as the writings of notoriously rambly philosopher Ulrich Beck.

As part of this detour, were subjected to all manner of distasteful and, frankly, dull exposition regarding born-again Christians who are manic in their godly professions and apparently mentally unsound in their beliefs, and a section where Harris attempts to challenge the readers ethics by setting up numerous morally ambiguous situations that demand our readerly judgement. In the hands of a more subtle or confident writer this could all be quite interesting, but Harriss approach is so over the top that it all veers towards absurdism. I understand that were meant to draw parallels between the entrenched racism in the deep south and the treatment of the newly equal vampires, but the narrative approach is just so painfully blatant that its difficult to stomachand the narrators habit of attempting to find humour (or something sexual) in what should be serious or challenging situations is all a bit discomforting. Needless to say, I wouldnt trust Sookie to comport herself appropriately at a funeral.

While the whole middle section of the book is problematic in a wealth of waysthematically, 'narratively and, well, in terms of making any sort of sensethings scarcely improve once we return to Bon Temps, and Sookie decides that the only way to solve Lafayettes murder is to pose as a sultry minx and get frisky at a swingers party. First, I cannot fathom how a town with a population of about ten people can support the swinging lifestyle without word getting out, and second, how on earth is dressing up in a miniskirt and soliciting for sex the most reasonable way to solve a murder investigation? While Sookie likes to up the sass, she has some serious issues when it comes to basic cognitive reasoning. Anyway, after a series of nonsensical events that I dont quite understand myself, things come to an, erm, climax, and everyone rolls over and goes to sleep. Until a man-hating maenid turns up and other weird events ensue. At this point my poor beleagured mind couldnt take much more, and I admit to skipping a few chapters while the narrative dice were rolled by the great D&D player in the sky, and stuff randomly happened.

Needless to say, the narrative of this one left a touch to be desired for me, and Im no stranger to narrative weirdness. In fact, I happily eschew plot and sense whenever appropriate. I appreciate dadaism. Ill happily read William S Burroughs. I think that Malevichs paintings are exquisite. But this? No. Sorry.

Ive touched briefly on the thematic elements that bothered me in this novel, and should note that the Sookie books continue to make me feel uncomfortable in the way that they depict minorities. The power differentials between the various groups in these novels are quite challenging, and theres a painful sense of conservatism running through this series that I find deeply problematic. Theres a definite sense of subjugation and oppression, and the assumed powerlessness of minoritiesincluding womenis something that I find immensely frustrating. Its something that is evident in every element of these books, however, and perhaps its largely because of this that I find them so unpalatable. Sookies apparent strength, for example, manifests as little more than a smart mouthin every other way she prostrates herself before her frighteningly dominant and passive-aggressive vampire partner. These hugely problematic power binaries occur time and time again (as they often seem to do in paranormal romance novels), and are rarely addressed.


While I can see the appeal of this Buffy-in-the-deep-s0uth series, the Sookie books lack a sense of cohesion, and exhibit evident weaknesses in plotting, characterisation, and theme, and while they may well improve as the series progresses, the confronting conservatism and problematic gender binaries will likely preclude me from continuing with this series. I dont doubt, however, that others will get a lot out of these booksthe sales figures speak for themselves, after alland if you treat them as nothing more than a quick read, youll do fine.


Rating: star Review: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harrisstar Review: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harrisblankstar Review: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harrisblankstar Review: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harrisblankstar Review: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris (not great)

See also our review of Dead Until Dark, Sookie Stackhouse #1 (Rating: star Review: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harrisstar Review: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harrisstar Review: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harrisblankstar Review: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harrisblankstar Review: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris)

With thanks to Gollancz Australia for the review copy

Purchase Living Dead in Dallas from Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA

Also by Charlaine Harris:

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white 15 Review: Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine HarrisSend to Kindle


  1. Ive been seeing reviews for this series everywhere and generally skip them! Somehow Ive decided this is not for me and your review just confirms that decision. I tried watching the TV series True Blood (which I believe is based on the books) but didnt get into that either.

    Im staying away from vampire storylines for the time being. In fact I havent gone back to vampires since Anne Rice and Buffy many years ago.

  2. Stephanie /

    Im not a huge vampire fan either, although every now and then I come across a series that works for me (believe it or not, I love Kerrilyn Sparks hilarious vampire romances). I generally find alpha males and sassy but wimpy heroines tiresome, and this series has them in spades!

  3. Great review! I enjoyed the Sookie series but have to agree with your comments on its flaws. Living Dead in Dallas is probably one of the worse books in the series, but it does remain problematic and there are certain events in later books that definitely put me off. But, like you say, theyre easy, fluffy reads. I persisted mainly because Im a bit in love with Eric hes actually the only part I enjoyed in Living Dead in Dallas, I think definitely the only redeeming factor in that random orgy scene. Have you seen True Blood? Its much better than the books.

    • Stephanie /

      Thanks for visiting, Belle. Youre right, Eric is a breath of fresh airhe reminds me of Spike in Buffyand definitely elevates the series. I have considered checking out the show, because I think the books would work well on the small screen (and screenwriters are typically forced to be tight when it comes to plot)

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