Book review: Dead in the Family

Dead in the Family
A Sookie Stackhouse novel
By Charlaine Harris
Published by Ace Books, New York
ISBN: 0441017150
Review copy purchased by reviewer

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

And so we come to the tenth book in the Southern Vampire series. I don’t think it’s jumped the shark yet (a cultural reference to the popular TV sitcom “Happy Days” and the episode where Fonzie jumped over a penned shark–on a surf board, not his beloved motorcycle–in the final season), but it’s getting closer and closer. You can see the fin on the distant horizon. The time is rapidly approaching when Ms. Harris will no longer have anything to say about or do with these characters. This will be a pity, because I love ’em all.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the series. I love seeing what Sookie gets into next and how her creator reinterprets traditional monsters into the monsters of today. You have to admit, it’s certainly innovative using Felipe De Castro and his evil cohort Vincent Madden, the vamps from Vegas who took over Queen Sophie’s territory of Louisiana by slaughtering her and all her supporters, to symbolize ruthless corporate takeovers. Vampires definitely have the killer instinct to survive and thrive in today’s corporate world. But I think Ms. Harris is running out of steam. Since she killed the fairies in the last book, among them Claudine, Sookie’s beloved “fairy godmother” as well as her cousin, it just hasn’t been the same.

Even Sookie admits to being at loose ends at the beginning pf the book as she says goodbye to her housemate Amelia, the witch from New Orleans, when she goes back to the Big Easy to face judgment from her coven for turning her boyfriend into a cat. Her brother Jason has gotten over the death of his were panther wife enough to start dating again, an ordinary gal who doesn’t change into anything but finds it sexy that he does. Still recovering from the wounds she received in the Fae War from Neave and Lochlan, those two crazy fairies who kidnapped and tortured her, Sookie finds herself leaning on her vampire boyfriend Eric Northman for emotional support. The problem is that vampires don’t do emotion very well. When they do, it’s usually very intense, the kind that goes with hunting, fighting, and sex. Ever since the Vegas Takeover, Eric’s been having to watch his back lest his new boss find an excuse to take him out and replace him as sheriff with one of his own people. This doesn’t give him much time to be as supportive as Sookie would like.

Just when Sookie is feeling really low, her fairy cousin Claude Crane (and I mean fairy in every sense of the word!) shows up, baggage in hand. He says he’s lonely living in that big old house by himself since his sisters died (he was one third of a set of fairy triplets, one of them Claudine) and he asks if he can stay with her for a while. Well, Sookie doesn’t have much family and she cherishes the few relatives she does have left, so she lets Claude move in so she can have family around, as well as for Claudine’s sake. Then she gets a call from another cousin, the husband of her late cousin Hadley, asking if she can take care of his and Hadley’s little boy Hunter overnight while Daddy goes to a funeral. In addition to being her late cousin’s son, little Hunter also shares Sookie’s gift of mind reading, which he needs help learning how to use, to keep from embarrassing Daddy and endangering himself. So Sookie welcomes her little cousin, whom she encourages to call her aunt. She, Hunter, and Claude then spend a peaceful day together, which helps her regain some emotional balance.

Just when Sookie’s starting to have fun with family, Eric’s family shows up as well. Unfortunately, his relatives aren’t as much fun as hers. It seems Eric’s maker is in town. Not the one on the TV show; he’s an ancient Roman vampire named Appius Livius Ocella, who’s been alive since the time of Christ, but doesn’t have much use for His philosophy. And he’s brought along his latest “child”, a fourteen-year-old Russian prince who was supposed to have died during the Russian Revolution. That’s right, folks, Eric’s dad turned Alexei Romanov, the son of Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra! And it seems that due to the trauma of being brutally murdered and seeing his family murdered as well (No, his sister Anastasia did not survive, never mind all the movies), poor Alexei isn’t wrapped too tight. So between her own family problems and Eric’s, Sookie’s plate is pretty full.

Oh, did I mention that there’s still one fairy left in the mortal world who’d like to kill her? Not to mention a nosy FBI agent who keeps showing up when he’s least wanted, trying to prove that Sookie’s not human. I believe it has something to do with the recent coming out of the weres, or two-natured, whom she also hangs with. Seems that regular folks are so scared of them that they’re trying to pass a law forcing them to register, as if they were aliens. Oh, and one of those weres also killed and hid a human body on Sookie’s property, after she was nice enough to give the local werewolf pack permission to hold their monthly moonlight gathering on her land. But at least she found out where another body was buried as well; Debbie Pack, that catty ex-girlfriend of Alcide Herveaux, the sexy werewolf who helped her find Bill after his maker kidnapped him. Remember how Sookie had to kill the bitch after finding her lying in wait in her own house? Eric was good enough to dispose of the body for her, but since he was suffering from amnesia at the time, he could never remember where it was. Well, Debbie’s remains turn up just before the new body does. I must say that despite getting near to jumping the shark, Ms. Stackhouse’s life is still full of surprises.

Let’s hope the surprises keep coming frequently enough to keep this series consistently interesting. I, for one, enjoy dividing my time between the books and the TV show, where the scriptwriters seem to enjoy amping up the violence every week, a lot more than Charlaine does in her books, I believe. There is a bloody and violent resolution at the end, where both Eric’s family problem and Sookie’s fairy stalker problem are solved at the same time. I love it when plot complications come together in the end, but the book still has an unfinished feeling to it. I guess that’s the author’s way of making sure we stay tuned in until the next sequel.