When kicking back at the beach or killing time in a hotel, there isn’t much better than relaxing with a good book. My novel of choice for this vacation was Charlaine Harris’s Definitely Dead.
Charlaine Harris – Definitely Dead (2006/2007)
Definitely Dead is the sixth book in the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris that center around Sookie, a psychic waitress. As with all of the Sookie books I’ve reviewed so far, this one is a mixture of romance, mystery, and monsters. At this point in the series, Sookie has dated two different vampires and one werewolf, she’s flirted with a shape-shifter, and she’s been courted by a were-panther (who was very interested in her, but a little too down to earth and old for her tastes.) If it isn’t obvious just from that list above, this is not a good place to start reading this series. Harris attempts to reintroduce all the characters as they come into this story, but with five novels worth of adventures under Sookie’s belt at this point, there are a few too many sticky storylines going in this book for a new reader to be able to keep the characters straight. (I’ve read the complete series two times through, already, and I still had to stop and recollect a few times to try to remember who is who (or sometimes, who is what…))
In addition to the thick, converging plotlines in this novel, I have another rather serious complaint about this book. Somehow, a bunch of stuff has happened to Sookie between the fifth book (Dead as a Doornail) and the sixth book… What??? How is that supposed to happen? Apparently, Harris contributed a Sookie short story, called “One Word Answer,” to the horror anthology, Bite, which included some profound occurrences in Ms. Stackhouse’s life and are essential to the events that happen in Definitely Dead, but there wasn’t any indication at the end of the fifth book or the beginning of the sixth that the reader needed to read this other story before cracking into this one. Instead, a reader like me dives right into this book, then has to stop and go, “I don’t remember this character? Am I reading the wrong book?” After checking to make sure I’m not reading out of order, I keep going—and several more events are mentioned, as if I should know about them… But they weren’t in the previous book! This confused and frustrated me, primarily because I’m a careful reader, and I was wondering if I’d had some kind of stroke or brain damage and lost the knowledge of these characters and incidents, which Sookie (as narrator) and Harris (as author) seemed certain that I should recall.
I’m a fan of side stories and alternate adventures and crossovers and all that, but I would have appreciated either the inclusion of this “missing” chapter either at the end of book five or the beginning of six, or at the very least there should have been a NOTE saying something like, “The events of this story take place directly after the occurrences in blah blah blah, as seen in the short story, ‘One Word Answer.’” Nothing. No word, no explanation, just a story about things and characters that we who were coming straight from Dead as a Doornail knew nothing about. My first time reading this book, it really, really bugged me. To this day, I’ve never bothered to find the Bite anthology or read the short story. (According to the research I did for this review, the story has now been included in a collection of Sookie short stories, called The Complete Sookie Stackhouse Stories, but I’ve never bothered to get that either…) To be honest, I felt cheated.
Complaining aside, this is a pretty fun book. We get a new love interest for Sookie (a were-tiger!), as well as a new friend (a suburban witch), and some vicious, battle action. Sookie gets beaten up quite a bit in this book again, though it’s not as dark and depressing as Club Dead was. The various mystery threads are interesting, if the reader can keep them straight, and there are quite a few moments of genuine humor. This book does have a few naughty scenes in it (HBO levels of sexuality), and several scenes of violence that borderline on gory. (Again, no straight-forward torture or rape, as Club Dead had, but some violence that non-horror fans will definitely find pretty disturbing.) A highlight of the book is the riot at a vampire gathering, where the reader gets to “watch” the Viking vampire, Erik, diving into the mayhem with an enthusiasm leaning towards GLEE and a true warrior’s love of violence and carnage.
Several of the characters in this book are quite exciting and entertaining, and we get a glimpse of some of the oldest and most powerful vamps to be introduced into Sookie’s world so far. Harris does a good job of describing the characters, and of creating a “mood-of-awe,” for lack of a better phrase. Again, I have to comment on the reactions of Sookie herself (the first person narrator of these stories), who never seems to be able to comprehend the danger that she’s in when confronting, say, a one thousand year old vampire queen, who Sookie snips at and speaks to in what seems to be intentionally confrontational language—and yet, she survives to snip and snap another day. (It might just be a personal thing. I wouldn’t act like that in a similar situation.)
Anyway, this book is fun, and I read the entire thing in three days. (I’m a very slow reader, so that should say something about the “couldn’t-put-it-down” quality of the story.) I’ve read the book at least three times (this might have been my fourth), and it’s still fun. Part of the interest is, like the Harry Potter books, getting to return to familiar characters and situations. I LIKE these folks (and monsters.) Their adventures are fun, and the supernatural elements (though far from “believable”) are entertaining. If you’re looking for a good paranormal romance series, with lots of different humanoid-monsters and a dash of mystery, I recommend this series, highly. This volume is not the best in the series, but it has some great moments, and it’s a quick and action-packed tale. I am rather bothered that so much of the novel is based on the events of a short story that wasn’t included in the main line of the tale, but Harris does explain the “what” and “why” enough to get the reader through. It’s not a laugh riot or a brilliant mystery, but it’s an enjoyable story and worth the few days it’ll take most readers to read it.
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
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