Dead in the Family — the latest hotly anticipated Charlaine Harris release — is the tenth book in the Sookie Stackhouse series, a series which has gained considerable reputation due to the TV adaptation True Blood. Aptly titled, the novel focuses very much on family problems, although (of course) of the supernatural kind.
Recuperating from old (psychotic-fairy-induced) wounds which have left her physically and mentally scarred, Sookie is not in the best shape to help those she loves. But problems wait for no telepath: with Bill’s sickness, the unexpected arrival of Eric’s maker, and Sam’s family drama, Sookie has her hands full. Throw in an unexpected house guest, a grumpily pregnant Tara, and a visit from a five-year-old telepath, and Sookie has no choice: she must shape up, or ship out. Now, if only she could figure out who’s been lurking near her house….
Dead in the Family has many of the characters Sookie fans have come to know and love, and many new faces as well. It is a transitional novel: there is a lot of back story summing up previous events, and a lot of information which lays the foundation for future books, particularly with Eric explaining vampire politics to (a bored) Sookie. The problem is — despite such a large cast – the story lacked the suspense which has become a Harris trademark. There is little to no build-up of tension, and while the story wasn’t exactly boring, it wasn’t quite thrilling either.
Why? Because, despite being from Sookie’s point of view, Sookie is not the main character. The main conflicts in the novel are ones to which Sookie is only a peripheral member; at most, Sookie’s problem is that everyone she knows is having problems, with her lazing around her house while people come and go, informing her of their difficulties. And most of these problems are resolved very neatly before you have the chance to become worried.
There are many missed opportunities for drama: Sookie only has marginal relationship hiccups with Eric, Eric’s maker lurks in the background for the most part, the head villain Victor doesn’t even make an appearance, and given that Sookie recovers from her own trauma rather quickly, we’re left — 100 pages in – wondering when the story will start.
One of the biggest contributing factors to the flatness of the plot was Sookie’s lack of relationship problems, which have always been a focal point in the Stackhouse series. Sookie and Eric are in love, and love has softened Eric into an old sop — where’s his sexy banter and teasing, his inappropriate comments? Why doesn’t sneaky old Bill make more of a move? Why not create some delicious tension with Alcide?
Harris writes excellent unhappy and conflicted characters, but somewhere in laying the foundation for the sequels, she forgot to make things difficult for them in this novel. Hopefully the next book will offer the thrilling adventure we’ve come to expect from her. In the meanwhile, I don’t know what I’d do without True Blood.
This book is one of my 100+ Reading Challenge!