THE COMPLETE SOOKIE STACKHOUSE STORIES by Charlaine Harris.
Gollancz, 368 page HC, £16.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
One problem that a successful author has is that editors of anthologies or magazines ask them for short stories. This can mean breaking off the train of thought that is going into writing the next novel with the attendant distraction of creating new characters and situations that take the concentration away from the flow. Getting back into that frame of mind is sometimes difficult. The answer, especially if the author is writing a series of linked novels is to set the short pieces in the same universe as the novels. This has the added bonus of being able to write about events that do not quite fit into the mainstream of the story arc. It also gives the reader an added bonus of meeting familiar characters in unexpected places.
Over the years, Charlaine Harris has produced a number of novels involving Sookie Stackhouse, a telepath living in the Louisiana town of Bon Temps (the source of the TV series True Blood). The stories in this volume slot into the sequence of the novels so they can either be read as an adjunct or as they are neatly crafted to stand alone, as a collection linked by the same principal character. It is not necessary to be familiar with the novels to enjoy the stories, however, for those who have followed the series, they will meet old friends here.
Sookie is a telepath, in that she can hear the thoughts of others (except vampires) and it is for this talent that members of the supernatural community turn to her when they want her to discover if a human is telling the truth. It had led her into danger in some of the novels but in ‘Fairy Dust’ it is the fairy, Claudine, that needs her help. Her sister, Claudette, has been murdered and she wants to know who did it. ‘Lucky’ is another story in which Sookie is called on to solve a mystery. In this case, it is her insurance agent, who is also a witch, who wants to know who has been sneaking into his office at night and looking through his files.
This is a world where vampires have ‘come out’. They have rights as long as they don’t kill humans. The turning point was the invention of TruBlood, a synthetic blood that can sustain a vampire. There are humans, though who are happy to allow a vampire a sip. So there are nightclubs run by vampires. One is Fangtasia. It is run by Eric Northman, a very old vampire who becomes Sookie’s boyfriend. ‘Dracula Night’ is a celebration at the club in honour of Vlad Tepes birthday. Rumour has it that the Count will turn up at someone’s celebration. Eric is hoping that it will be his. Pam is Eric’s second-in-command and Sookie is as close a friend as the vampire will admit to having. In ‘Two Blondes’, Pam and Sookie are going to Tunica ostensibly on vacation. The town is in another vampire’s territory. There is a hidden agenda as vampire politics are involved and Pam is taking Sookie along to check that the one they are going to meet is on the level.
The Were community announced their presence much later than the vampires and there was a lot more prejudice against them as most had been living amongst humans who feel they had been deceived. Sam Merlotte, Sookie’s boss, is a shifter being able to take many animal forms. When his brother is about to get married, in ‘Small-Town Wedding’,
Sam takes Sookie along as his girlfriend partly to keep his mother happy and partly because his real girlfriend doesn’t have the social graces for such an occasion. Objectors to having Were-animals in their midst organise in an attempt to disrupt the wedding. At novella length, this is the longest story in this volume and is able to develop the characters and situation to a higher degree. It demonstrates how fear of the unknown can colour people’s actions and the way that communities can be brought together for common reasons.
A couple of these stories fill in gaps in the main sequence and act as the kind of bridges between novels that afford a good view if you stop to look. ‘One Word Answer’ is the result of a visit of the representative of the Queen of New Orleans bringing Sookie the legacy her cousin Hadley – a vampire – left her after her true death. Sookie has fairy ancestry and ‘Gift Wrap’ is a Christmas present from her great-grandfather.
Sookie is the kind of person who tends to be in the wrong place at the right time. In ‘Playing Possum’ she has promised Hadley’s small son, Hunter, that she will make cup-cakes for the Labor Day party at his school. Shortly after she arrives at the school, so does the homicidal ex-boyfriend of the school secretary. The situation could have been a lot worse if Hunter hadn’t also inherited the telepathy gift from the fairy side of the family, and if his teacher hadn’t been a witch.
Throughout all the novels, Sookie’s best friend has been Tara. Now married with twins, Tara and her husband have decided to make some changes to their house and in ‘If I Had A Hammer’ have conscripted Sam and Sookie to help. During the renovations, they discover a bloodied hammer concealed behind panelling. The mood within the house changes and they realise they have a malevolent spirit. Despite the time that has passed since the hammer was used as a murder weapon, they need to unravel the situation. One of the important characters here is Quiana, the twins’ nanny. She is a psychic.
The final story in the volume ‘In The Blue Hearafter’ is an anomaly. It is the only one not told in the first person from Sookie’s viewpoint. The lead character is Manfred Bernado who has appeared in the Harper Connelly series, also by Charlaine Harris. He is a psychic and is sent to Bon Temps by his (dead) grandmother though he doesn’t know why. She has always set him puzzles and just because she is no longer physically present, she is not going to stop. He has to work out why he has to be at a softball tournament. He meets Sookie there, and Quiana. Manfred is also a character in Harris’s new, ongoing series about the desert town of Midnight. This story demonstrates how smoothly seemingly different lines of supernatural adventures can be linked without harming the integrity of any of them. The centre of the world it seems is Bon Temps, Louisiana. If you are unaware of Harris’s supernatural novels and like the idea of vampires and werewolves living amongst us, this is a good place to begin.