Living Dead in Dallas

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Tidying up the to be read bookcase, I noticed the pulp shelf is the only one overflowing. It has a stack of books in front of the actual shelved books. This is in part because the Chap got me some more Sookie Stackhouse novels for my birthday.

Living Dead in Dallas
Charlaine Harris
(Gollanz, 2009)

Sookie, a telepathic waitress, and Bill, her vampire lover, investigate both the death of someone in Bon Temps and a missing vampire case in Dallas.

This is where the books really start to diverge from the TV series. A popular character from the TV series is killed in the first chapter here, and the detective element of the books really takes off. Sookie and Bill are paid for their work in Dallas, rather than being a loan by Eric to another vampire clan. And Eric…well, Eric is a much more entertaining vampire elder here. Asked by Sookie to act as her bodyguard at an orgy in the woods, he revels in the role she’s assigned him.

Naturally, part of the fun reading vampire romances is that the good human girl is drawn to the vampire. It’s Buffy and Angel, Bella and Edward etc etc. What’s delightful about the Sookie Stackhouse books is that while Sookie is drawn to Bill he’s just not that, well, romantic. His attraction lies in being a vampire – otherwise he’s the kind of sensible, serious man who would bore you for an hour about the siege of Stalingrad. In contrast, Eric is every stereotype of a vampire: ancient, witty, powerful, sexy and simply a bad, bad thing.

By basing the plot around the two mysteries, Harris plays up the similarities and differences between human and vampire societies. No-one really cares about the dead person dumped in the Sheriff’s car, but the Dallas vampires are so desperate to discover what has happened to one of theirs that they will work with the human Sookie. And throughout the novel, it is the humans who do terrible things not the supernatural creatures and Sookie has to realise the world is not as black and white as she thought.

New elements are introduced that I hope will be picked up in subsequent books: Tara, who runs a clothes shop; the first suggestion of a shapeshifter society to match the vampire one; the first appearance of another telepath.

Like the best pulp fiction, I raced through Living Dead in Dallas because it’s working to the template of its genres. And mixing up romance, gothic and detective fiction is great fun.

Dead Until Dark

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Dead Until Dark: A True Blood Novel
Charlaine Harris
(Gollancz, 2009)

Sometimes, what a girl really needs is a vampire. After two disappointing reads, I wanted my palette cleansed. With blood and pulp. Handily, Big Magpie had the first two Sookie Stackhouse (aka True Blood) novels to lend me. I’ve only read the first so far…

Sookie Stackhouse is from an old family in Bon Temps, northern Louisiana, but the family is fallen so far that she works as a waitress in a bar. She’s also got “my disability”: she’s telepathic. When vampire Bill Compton returns to town to reclaim his family home, she discovers she can’t read his mind and is instantly drawn to him. Vampires are “out of the coffin” and can live on synthetic blood, but the humans are still prejudiced against them. Then dead girls start turning up, with fang marks on their thighs…

The story is considerably more simple than the first season of the tv series: focussing purely on the murders of fangbangers and the arrival of vampire Bill in Bon Temps. With no Tara, and Lafayette merely a background character, the post-segregation subtext – with people’s fears of the vampires echoing the fears expressed about black men a hundred years ago – vanishes.

The world created in the novel remains compelling (and since I was after a pulp read I can’t really complain about minimalist subtexts). Yes, vampires in the Deep South is a cliché, thanks to Anne Rice, but these aren’t rich romantics slumming it in New Orleans. This is a rural town off the beaten track, with pockets of trailer trash, and still showing scars from the American Civil War. When Sookie mentions the duplexes on the main street, they replaced houses destroyed in the war. Bill Compton is, well, not exactly a survivor on account of being dead, but someone who fought in the Civil War. At one point he reacts with surprise that one family is still in town, suggesting some grudge or betrayal 150 years ago. The plot sets up things for the book series to become the supernatural detective fiction I understand it becomes.

Everything is told from Sookie’s first person point of view: she’s given a strong clear voice by Harris but it does slip sometimes. She does seem to jump a bit suddenly from thinking one way to thinking another. Not all the descriptions – of passions or horrors – grabbed me: there seemed to be a wall created through the need to keep Sookie’s voice intact. The story does race along though, and is engaging enough that you keep reading compulsively.

In short, it was just what I needed.

No such City

Tuesday, 4 October 2005

No Such City

I picked up a fab pulp novel in the charity shop at the weekend: Shabby Tiger by Howard Spring. It has a nakkid girl on the cover. It also has the tagline “Exuberant, outspoken, Rabelaisian” and how often do you see a novel called Rabelaisian these days, eh?

But the real joys lie within. The opening line is

The woman flamed along the road like a macaw.

Do macaws often flame along roads, then?

Then I spotted the disclaimer (see photo). There is no such city as Manchester.

And even the author is fictitious. Has this fallen through a wormhole from the Nineteen Eighty Four universe, in which fiction is mass-produced on the novel-writing machines?

She could describe the whole process of composing a novel, from the general directive issued by the Planning Committee down to the final touching-up by the Rewrite Squad.

She had even …been picked out to work in Pornosec, the sub-section of the Fiction Department which turned out cheap pornography for distribution among the proles. … There she had remained for a year, helping to produce booklets in sealed packets with titles like Spanking Stories or One Night in a Girls’ School, to be bought furtively by proletarian youths who were under the impression that they were buying something illegal.
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell

Certainly it has the rough printing on the cover, with rosettes of basic colours barely blurred together: the sort that always makes me think of the magic colouring books I had a child where one swish a a wet paintbrush revealed the colours.

Yet our fictional author has three volumes in his autobiography, according to the ‘also by’ listing.


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