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Dead Until Dark    by Charlaine Harris order for
Dead Until Dark
by Charlaine Harris
Order:  USA  Can
Ace, 2001

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* * *   Reviewed by G. Hall

Dead Until Dark is the perfect title for this 'southern vampire mystery'. Who knew that there was a vampire mystery sub-genre? And now, as the Tanya Huff quote on the front cover says, 'rural America finally has a vampire story to call its own'. Of course, this book is set in Louisiana, which, thanks to the Anne Rice-New Orleans vampire novels, is probably the only place that could have any credibility as a vampire mystery setting. This one takes place in modern day Bon Temps, in a world where vampires are accepted as having a legal right to exist. There is even synthetic blood available for them in stores and restaurants, although they are not really integrated into society. However, they are still seen as scary and fascinating and attract 'fang banger' groupies.

All of that said, the book is actually a surprisingly engaging love story about two outsiders. Sookie Stackhouse is a young waitress who everyone thinks is crazy, because of her telepathic powers which she tries to hide. Bill Compton is a vampire whose human life ended in the Civil War, and who is now trying to mainstream into society. When Sookie encounters him one night in her restaurant, she realizes she cannot read his mind. Then he rescues her from some low-life attackers in the restaurant parking lot. Sookie is instantly attracted to him and soon finds herself falling in love with him. But she realizes that she can never have a normal relationship with a man who is only available after dark, can never father children and will not grow old with her.

The mystery begins when one of the other waitresses is murdered. Shortly another young woman is found dead. Both have had sex not long before death and have fang marks on their bodies. Sookie tries to use her mental powers to see who is thinking about the crimes. Then her grandmother, with whom she lives, is attacked. Sookie and Bill team up to solve the mystery, along the way encountering a variety of weird and eery characters, both human and vampire. Dead Until Dark is an exciting change of pace for the mystery world and a touching romance. While it is not the best plotted mystery ever, it sure gets top marks for originality. What, I wonder, will the author write as a followup?

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