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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Touch of Dead fills in the blanks

Collected short stories fill gaps in Sookie Stackhouse vampire saga

By GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer
Published: 10/11/2009 2:27 AM

Sookie, Sookie everywhere, but not a drop to drink. Until now.

At least, that is how author Charlaine Harris explains simply in the dedication to this collection of five previously published short stories that feature Sookie Stackhouse: "For all those readers who want every last sip of Sookie."

It's a literary beverage that a great many people have found quite tasty over the last couple of years, thanks in large part to the HBO series "True Blood," created by Alan Ball and based on Harris' series of novels about the adventures of a barmaid named Sookie Stackhouse who lives in a Louisiana that's rife with vampires, shape-shifters and other such creatures.

However, the short stories in "A Touch of Dead" can only be fully understood if one already has a knowledge of Harris' "Southern Vampire" novels — from 2001's "Dead until Dark" to "Dead and Gone," which came out earlier this year.

Arkansas native Harris brings humor and a straight-forward writing style to her unique twist on the paranormal romance genre, blending fantasy, science fiction and a healthy dash of sexual tension.

She has a knack for moving her stories along quickly, but without sacrificing the complexity she gives her characters. And just when action gets serious, she brings in some levity to keep it from becoming completely morose or disturbing.

The five stories here are arranged according to how they fit into the overall chronology of the series — interludes between the novels, so to speak.

familiar with the Sookie novels will enjoy the stories of her meeting the Vampire Queen of Louisiana for the first time in "One Word Answer," and her role in solving a murder at a strip club for fairies in "Fairy Dust."

The light-hearted "Dracula Night" shows a childlike enthusiasm from the usually ruthless and calculating vampire Eric. The story takes place during a time when Sookie and Eric, who is the sheriff over the regional vampire territory, are flirting with the idea of being a couple. In the vampire culture, Dracula's birthday is a holiday, and Eric views the iconic legend as Santa Claus, hoping for a visit. After the leotard-wearing, pudgy Prince of Darkness arrives, he finds Sookie irresistible, leading to a brouhaha.

"Lucky" uncovers the secret subversive tactics of the town's most successful insurance agent. He has a talent for manipulating luck that only a supernatural being can detect. The good fortune enjoyed by his clients has a detrimental impact on others in the sleepy town. It is the weakest story among the collection, but this is a one-time appearance of the agent among Harris' works.

"Gift Wrap" has a stunner of an ending with Sookie enjoying a very merry Christmas. The tale begins with a naked man, who is also a werewolf, showing up on the doorstep of her country home on Christmas Eve. He is being hunted by a rival werewolf and ended up on her land looking for help. This takes place after "From Dead to Worse (book 8)," and Sookie is alone to celebrate the holidays. While the characters have yet to reappear, it ties in with Sookie's twisted familial lineage.

Through the years, Harris has contributed to short-story anthologies with other authors, including L.A. Banks (Vampire Huntress series), Laurell K. Hamilton (Anita Blake series) and Jim Butcher (Dresden Files). These short stories appeared from 2008 to February of this year.

While it is enjoyable reading the stories in one collection, readers should take time to pick up the anthologies where the pieces were originally published. Harris has been a champion of other writers, even editing at least one of the compilations, and they are good places to find interesting authors.

The stories in “A Touch of Dead” originally appeared in the following paperback anthologies:
“Fairy Dust” in “Powers of Detection” Ace, October 2004

“One Word Answers” in “Bite” Jove, December 2004

“Dracula Night” in “Many Bloody Returns” Ace, September 2007

“Gift Wrap” in “Wolfsbane and Mistletoe” Ace, October 2008

“Lucky” in “Unusual Suspects” Ace, December 2008

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