Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Book Review: Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

It's been about a year since I last read one of the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries.  If you don't watch TV or read books or see magazine ads or visit movie rental stores or overhear water cooler conversation or catch the offhand reference in Psych, you might not know that this series by Charlaine Harris inspired HBO's True Blood.  The character of Eric Northman, played by Alexander Skarsgärd, is one of the dark, brooding, haunted, man-candy vampires features in both the books and the show.
Image copyright Penguin

I was first introduced to the books by a friend in Arkansas, and I devoured them.  (The first eight or so, that is.)  Before I left the state, I had the chance to hear author Charlaine Harris speak.  She is personable, funny, and entertaining.  If you have the chance to see or hear her, take it.  If you're a writer, she will encourage you.  She makes no bones about the fact that writing is hard work that sometimes (often?) feels like drudgery.  It's about getting up in the morning and getting shit done.  (My words, not hers...but I think she would agree with the sentiment.)

So here is my take on the eleventh (good Lord, read that again: eleventh) Sookie Stackhouse novel.

Sookie is still Sookie.  She cleans house when other people mess it up, she misses her deceased grandmother, she gets mad when other people butt into her business, and she has a little trouble figuring out who and what is dearest to her heart.  But there's something missing in this version of the Sook.  She seems depressed and listless.  (I'm not the only reviewer to feel this way, it seems.) During a climactic fight scene, she carries stakes in her purse but only hands one to Eric and spends the rest of the fight scene trying to hide.  What happened to the ass-kicking Sookie of previous books?  It seems as if Sookie herself is tired of living in this world.  Does this represent fatigue on Charlaine Harris's part?  My guess is yes.

Plenty of other online reviewers (check Amazon, if you're curious) have pointed out some glaring timeline and plot-point errors.  I have to say, these didn't bother me nearly as much as they did other reviewers.  Maybe this is because having read the bulk of the books in 2008/9, I simply don't remember the finer points the way some other reviewers do.  Hence, my not being bothered by even the glaring inaccuracies.  I sort of gloss over them because they matter less to me than the overall trajectory of the main characters' relationships.  This is where I had the main problem with the book.

Eric turns into an asshole in this book.  I can only guess this is because, having kept him with Sookie for a number of books, Charlaine Harris is eager to break them up and finish the series with Sookie in bed with Bill (or, as some Amazon reviewers think, with Sam.  SAM??).

The problem is that Eric's strange tenderness with Sookie is a huge part of the series' charm.  Take a big, bloodthirsty, emotionless, vicious vampire...and teach him to love a feisty blonde barmaid.  Real love, where he puts her needs before his even if he doesn't understand them at all.  Awesome!  The moments I enjoyed most were the ways Eric made it up to Sookie when vampire business ruined various items of her clothing or home.  In one of the books, he instantly replaced a brand new coat she'd gotten that was ruined.  He also re-graveled her driveway at one point.  That is not a euphemism, people.

I have a gravel driveway.
Dude, if someone re-graveled it for me, I would be THEIRS FOR LIFE.

The point here is that Eric's character is a contrast in violence and tenderness.  In this book, that goes away almost entirely.  Eric's a dick.  He's secretive, passive, self-absorbed, and cruel to Sookie.  This seems to violate most of the goodwill (and character development) Harris has spend the last six or seven books generating.  At one point, Eric calls Sookie a hypocrite and bites her against her will.  This is not the Eric readers know and love.  If Harris wants to split up Eric and Sookie because this isn't how she wants to continue (or end) the series, that's fine.  But I'd rather see it done in character.  Have Sookie be the one to kick Eric to the curb because she realizes she's in love with someone else.  Have Eric make a request of her that she simply can't fulfill.  Anything but the way the relationship just kind of ended....through neglect.

There are some moments in the book I liked.  Mr. Cataliades makes a memorable appearance.  I might be starting to like Dermot.  But if the relationships aren't true, if the motives aren't believable, I can't be taken in by the charm of random elves or demons or fairies.