Charlaine Harris – Dead as a Doornail (2005/2006)
This is the 5th book in Charlaine Harris’s series about psychic waitress, Sookie Stackhouse, and it’s a pretty entertaining addition to Sookie’s life and times. The plot involves a sniper on the loose who is picking off the “two natured” citizens of Sookie’s neighborhood (that’s werewolves and shape shifters, for you non-supernaturalist folks), and when the bullets start to hit close to home, Sookie decides that she needs to use her telepathic abilities to try to find out who’s gunning down her friends.
This novel is a fast and frenetic mix of mystery, supernatural fantasy, horror, and romance. At times, it seems like Sookie is fighting off as many attempts on her life as she is fending off potential suitors, who number somewhere between a half dozen and a full dozen at this point. She has vampires, werewolves, were-panthers, shape shifters, and a few other critters trying to win her over in these pages, and there’s lots of smooching going on, but nothing too heavy. (In previous books, Sookie’s antics were a little more Hard-R.)
In addition to the sniper plotline and the various romance angles, there is also a “friend-in-a-dangerous-relationship” storyline, a revenge plot, AND a political feud that ends with a life or death battle to see who’s going to be the new leader of the powerful, local werewolf clan, all of which inevitable draw Sookie into them. It’s a busy, fast-paced book, but a serious page turner. Definitely one of the more exciting episodes!
On the negative side, perhaps, I would NOT recommend this book as an entry point to the Sookie Stackhouse series. This is the fifth book, and Harris frequently refers back to previous storylines and plot-points, often with little more than a cursory note explaining the reference. I would imagine that anyone who jumped right into Sookie’s story with this novel would feel pretty lost. There are tons of characters, hundreds of pages of backstory, and weird, emotional moments that probably wouldn’t make any sense without having read the previous books. If you’re thinking about reading this series, I’d start with the first book. They novels are all pretty quick reads (with the slight exception of book three, Club Dead, which I found so brutal that it’s not quite as fun as the rest and was a bit harder to get through for me. I’m not a big fan of torture scenes.)
As always, Harris’s writing is straightforward and clear. The characters are well defined and entertaining, and the mystery elements are nicely placed in the narrative (for those trying to decide “who dunnit.”) For the more sensitive souls, however, there is some very adult language, a bit of gore and violence, a yucky ritual sex scene, and enough romantic entanglements to choke a sperm whale. (I admit that I’m not a huge romance fan, but there’s enough mystery to keep me engaged.) In addition, if you’re looking for realism, this series ain’t it. The Sookie books are supernatural-fantasy-romance structed around a mystery core, and the books are unapologetic about it. You don’t get Milan Kundera or Faulkner in a Sookie book, but you do get lots of monsters, some entertaining mystery, and (for me) a sense of the familiar, like I’m going home to visit some old friends (who are either dead or really hairy when the moon is full---or fairies…) And compared to the rest of the books in this series, I give Dead as a Doornail a solid thumbs up!
---Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Grand Hoohaa of The P.E.W.)
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