Welcome back to our Sookie Stackhouse series reread. This week I will be discussing the second book in Charlaine Harris’s New York Times bestselling series, Living Dead in Dallas.
Our story begins with Andy Bellefleur, a Bon Temps detective, getting drunk at Merlotte’s bar. And while intoxication may be usual at a bar, a drunk Andy certainly is not. Sookie makes him hand over his keys, and calls his lawyer-sister Portia, to come and pick him up. Sookie’s boyfriend Bill (otherwise known as Vampire Bill, or V.B.) also stops by the bar, and Portia is able to put aside her prejudice long enough for Bill to help her get Andy out the door. Andy’s car stays in Merlotte’s parking lot through the next day.
When Sookie arrives for her next shift at the bar, she discovers that Andy’s car isn’t empty. Lafayette, Merlotte’s cook, is in the back seat. And he’s dead. Sookie runs to Sam, her boss, throws herself into his arms and begins to cry. As they wait for the police to arrive, Sam makes some calls to find a substitute cook—ending up with Terry Bellefleur, Andy’s cousin. Strange as it is to go about their business, if the police are going to be around, someone has to feed them.
The parish sheriff, Bud Dearborn, arrives, along with detective Alcee Beck. It seems that Lafayette’s neck was broken, and he was moved from some other spot to the car after his death. They take Sookie into Sam’s office to question her about the discovery. Sookie had last spoken with Lafayette three days prior, when he told her about a house party he had attended. Apparently there were, and I quote, “all kinds of sex hijinks going on.” No one is sure whether that party had a connection to his death, but it seems likely.
Later in the novel, Portia Bellefleur visits the bar, and asks Sookie a favor on behalf of Andy Bellefleur. She asks that she use her power to investigate about Lafayette’s death, and possibly discover where that crazy party was held. Sookie agrees to do so, but not for Andy and Portia—who have always been horribly unpleasant to her—but for Lafayette’s memory.
After work, Sookie goes home to prepare for an outing to Fangtasia, the vampire bar in Shreveport. Sookie and Bill were summoned by Eric, the sheriff of Area 5. And as Bill is now an Area 5 investigator, he’s under Eric’s direct protection. Which means that all Bill’s possessions are sacred to Eric, including Sookie.
On their way to Shreveport, Bill and Sookie begin fighting. The subject of the argument isn’t as important as the fact that Sookie gets out of the car, and insists that Bill drive on without her. She’ll walk home. Bill isn’t such a cad that he would actually leave her, but the car has stalled. So he needs to walk to a service station anyway, and plans to come back for her.
At this point, Sookie is so angry that she doesn’t care—she just stalks off down the road towards Bon Temps. Then a woman steps out of the trees. And not just any woman—she’s wearing practically nothing, has a feral hog accompanying her as a pet, and her teeth have stains as if she’s been eating raw meat. Sookie later finds out that she is a Maenad, servant of the Greek god Dionysus, and she purposely caused Sookie’s fight with Bill, as well as the car troubles.
The maenad tells Sookie that she must take a message to Eric Northman. Turns out, the message is fairly simple—Sookie is clawed viciously. Fortunately she turned to flee just in time, and is wounded on her back, not her face, as the maenad intended. Sookie then crawls to the treeline, as Bill returns. The car works perfectly now (strange, that!), and Bill rushes her to Shreveport, where Eric’s supernatural doctor is able to heal her. The maenad’s wounds have the same level of bacteria as a komodo dragon, so Sookie would have died of the poison in a few hours. The maenad wants a tribute from the vampires, and Sookie was sent as a reminder. If not given a proper gift, she will bring madness and death to the area.
When she is recovered, Eric informs her that they have “loaned” her to Area 6 in Texas, to help with a special investigation. The flight to Dallas is uneventful. As they are traveling during the day, Bill rides in a coffin, transported by Anubis Air. Sookie arrives at the airport, and is waiting for Bill’s coffin to be unloaded when a Catholic priest approaches…or at least a man dressed like one. After a short, creepy conversation, he grabs her, and begins to drag her away as she screams for help. His mind tells her that he means to kidnap her. Just in time, nightfall hits, and Bill rises out of his coffin and speeds to the rescue.
When they arrive at the Silent Shore Hotel, Bill and Sookie are greeted by a porter called Barry. Sookie is astonished to discover that Barry has the same telepathic ability. It’s not Sookie’s secret to tell, though, so she keeps that information to herself.
One of the Dallas vampires, Isabel Beaumont, drives them to their destination, a beautiful mansion. There they meet Stan Davis (formerly Stanislaus Davidowitz), leader of the Dallas vampires. Stan is missing a member of his group named Farrell, and needs Sookie to read the minds of their humans to find him. Sookie discovers that Farrell was taken from a bar by a young, tattooed vampire, and in the process realizes that the priest from the airport was at the bar also. The tattooed vampire is Godfrey, a renouncer. He’s allied himself with a radical human group—the Fellowship of the Sun—and plans to commit suicide. The Fellowship is the fastest growing cult in America, and it is entirely focused on hatred of vampires. They’ve been spying on Stan somehow, and Sookie realizes that the Fellowship has bugged his house. Once the bug has been neutralized, Stan requires that Sookie investigate the Fellowship of the Sun. She’s to pose as a couple looking to join the cult, along with another human, Isabel’s lover, Hugo Ayres. In fact, the ruse is Hugo’s idea.
Sidenote…during Sookie’s investigation, Isabel brings a visiting vampire in to the discussion. While he goes by the name Leif, it is definitely Eric, and Sookie and Bill are careful not to betray that they know him.
Sookie and Hugo visit the fellowship the next day. She’s shocked by the casual violence of the group—they encourage vampire drainers, and killers, and advocate the extinction of the supernatural race. Steve Newlin is the founder, along with his wife Sarah. They both give Sookie and Hugo a tour of the facilities, and share their plans for a big event the next day. A vampire plans to meet the dawn (aka commit suicide) in public forum, with a news crew attending, which the Newlins are using as a publicity campaign. By this time Sookie knows something is wrong—she had begun to suspect betrayal earlier, just from Hugo’s thoughts. But she’s unable to escape when the Fellowship forces her into a basement prison. Farrell is there, the vampire missing from Stan’s group, along with Godfrey.
Sookie now reads Hugo’s mind, and discovers that he was addicted to vampiric sex with Isabel. He couldn’t be without her, but hated her at the same time for his addiction. He agreed to help the fellowship, and set up Sookie’s visit so that they could capture her.
A fellowship member, Gabe, is guarding them, and in a horrifying scene tries to rape Sookie. She fights for all she is worth (which is a lot, considering her strength is heightened from drinking vampire blood), but she’s not quite strong enough. Just in time, Godfrey appears and saves her. He even accidentally strangles Gabe, as he was distracted by his conversation with Sookie.
Godfrey is truly horrified by his sins—which are many and heinous—and meeting the sun is his choice. But Sookie is able to convince him that she is not ready to die, does not deserve to die. Godfrey helps Sookie out of her cell, and distracts the Newlins so that she can escape. First Sookie calls for help, telepathically reaching out to Barry (the telepathic hotel porter) to warn Bill and the others.
A bat shapeshifter, Luna, was working undercover in the fellowship. She helps Sookie escape in a fairly dramatic car chase. The Fellowship rams their car, causing it to flip. Sookie is able to fend off the Fellowship until she and Luna are able to escape to the hospital in an ambulance. There, Sookie’s injuries are treated by a shapeshifter doctor, who expedites the process and then escorts them out. Sookie is then taken by a group of shapeshifters back to her hotel.
There she’s greeted by Eric, who helps her to her room and comforts her as she cries at the sight of her own bruised face. The next day she painfully gets out of bed to go see Godfrey meet the sun, so that he will have someone with him at the end. He is by himself, and has chosen to not share his death with the Fellowship.
Before they can go back to Bon Temps, Sookie and Bill must go to Stan’s one last time to give him a recap of all events. They arrive during Farrell’s welcome home party. Before joining the party, Stan takes Sookie to see Hugo’s punishment for betraying them, and Isabel’s for bringing him into their home. They are chained in a room together on opposite walls. Isabel can see and smell Hugo, but never drink. And Hugo must look at the object of his addiction, but never be able to touch. While Sookie feels conflicting about leaving human punishment in vampire hands, she can’t deny that it’s a fitting penance.
Back at the party, Sookie hears human minds surrounding the house. She yells for everyone to hit the floor, but only the vampires immediately obey. So when the Fellowship opens fire, it is the humans that die. Eric covers Sookie, protecting her from gunfire, and is hit by a bullet himself. He convinces Sookie that she must suck the bullet out of the wound for him, which is completely unnecessary, but his goal is accomplished—Sookie swallows a little bit of his blood in the process, which gives him more insight into her thoughts and feelings.
In the meantime, Bill runs off to kill the shooters without checking to see if Sookie had survived. Sookie can’t handle any more at this point, and just walks out of the house, rents a car, and drives back to Bon Temps. She doesn’t speak to Bill for over three weeks. She later reunites with Bill after he explains the vampire hunting instinct.
Now that she’s back, Sookie picks up her investigation into Lafayette’s death. Without even trying, just by virtue of her association with Bill, Sookie is invited to Lafayette’s crazy party. She’s shocked to find out that her good friend Tara Thornton and her fiance Benedict (Eggs) Tallie will be there also, as well as Bon Temps’s funeral director, Mike Spencer.
With Bill is out of town dealing with some leftover problems in Dallas, Sookie asks Eric to accompany her. She figures he owes her after pulling that bullet stunt, and Eric agrees to go—mostly to spend more time with Sookie. They drive to a little cabin out in the woods, where they find a small group, including Tara, Eggs, and Mike Spencer. I won’t get into the goings-on of the orgy, but Sookie and Eric do not participate (though they do have their own little makeout session for “appearances sake”).
Shortly into the party, Sookie sees Lafeyette’s murder in the minds of Eggs and Mike, and it’s horrifying. Eric is able to carry her outside without raising suspicion, but then gets a little carried away with Sookie’s near proximity. As Sookie is fending off his advances, Bill arrives, and then Andy Bellefleur. Andy has followed Sookie, and threatens her along with the rest of the orgy participants. Yet another person arrives, Sam, in the form of the collie Dean. And with him is the maenad (FYI, they had apparently been sleeping together).
The Maenad takes charge of the scene, and holds most of the humans under thrall, with Sookie and Sam exempt from her power. In an incredibly creepy scene, she draws murder confessions from Eggs and Mike, and another human named Tom. After they confess, the maenad pours madness into their heads. And while Sookie isn’t enthralled by her power, the insanity in the minds of those around her throws her into what seems to be a seizure.
After feeding on the lust, drunkenness, and madness of the humans, the maenad departs. Only Eggs, Andy and Tara are still alive. Eggs and Andy have no memory of the night at all, and Eric erases Tara’s memory as well. At least they find evidence of the murder in Mike’s trunk, so the police will have the case solved.
In the last scene, Bill discovers that Andy and Portia Bellefleur (perhaps two of the more unlikable characters in the book) are his descendents. And as he and Sookie…embrace…they are both glowing with an otherworldly light.
In the second book in the series, Charlaine Harris develops not only the supernatural world, but Sookie’s power as well. Once Sookie ignored her telepathic ability, pushing it away and keeping up shields. But Bill encourages her to use and develop her power, and she’s getting more and more control. She can hypnotize, and “send” images to relax minds, making them easier to read. And while the ability to control her own power is a good thing, it certainly doesn’t keep her out of trouble. We know that Stan found abilities extremely useful, and Eric certainly does.
Ah, Eric. Feel free to disagree, but I might as well admit it now—he is my favorite of all Sookie’s pursuers. Thank goodness we see more of him in this book! And while we see that while Eric may be manipulative and egocentric (that stunt with the bullet, anyone?), he also does care about Sookie. And while part of that may be for power or sex, he seems to care for her on a human level as well. Contemplating her mortality, protecting her from harm. Unlike Bill, he is not overcome by his hunting instincts during the shooting—he stays with Sookie. Apparently he’s trying to wear her down, judging by this quote:
Eric: “I’m hoping that the more you see me, the more I’ll grow on you.”
Sookie: Like a fungus?”
Once again, Harris brings moments of lightness and humor to dark and violent scenes. I am always amazed at her ability to balance dark and light, humor and truth. The distorted views of The Fellowship are contrasted with Sookie’s own beliefs—gotta love Godfrey’s astonishment that Sookie goes to church. Here, he finds a decent person worth saving! And while Sookie is not without her faults, she is a fighter, for herself and for others. As Terry Bellefleur says, she is “a sweet little éclair on the outside and a pit bull on on the inside.”
Bill is the same as ever. While he’s there for Sookie, and certainly loves her, he is not without his faults as well. He didn’t even bother to check if she was okay after the shooting, for goodness’ sake! I find it telling that Sooke admits “I wasn’t completely sure I was in love with Bill, but I loved him, and I had committed myself to him.” An interesting admission, right?
Look for what happens in their relationship next week, in the third book Club Dead. As for Living Dead in Dallas, what do you think? Are you still a Bill fan? Thoughts on the Fellowship or Harris’s description of the crazy house party? Let’s hear it!
Whitney Ross is an editor at Tor Books. In her free time, she’s also a book collector, wannabe jetsetter, and Starbucks junkie, and enjoys competitive sports such as skiing and shopping.