Welcome back to the next installment in our Sookie Stackhouse series reread. This week we have the third book in Charlaine Harris’s New York Times bestselling series, Club Dead.
As we begin our story, telepathic waitress Sookie is bemoaning the fact that the honeymoon phase in her relationship with her vampire-boyfriend Bill is over. For the past two months, he has been working on some super-secret-vampire-project on the computer (yes, a vampire using a computer!), practically ignoring Sookie altogether. While he does tell her that the project is an assignment from the vampire queen of Louisiana, he refuses to share any more information. More importantly, he insists that Eric Northman, his liege and the sheriff of area 5, cannot know.
Sookie doesn’t care about the project—she cares that Bill is keeping secrets from her. He actually tells her to stay away until the project is finished. But before she leaves, he gives her instructions. He plans to go to “Seattle” (an obvious lie). And if anything happens to him, she must hide the computer in his vampire hidey-hole in her house, go to Eric, and place herself under his protection.
When Sookie returns to her house a few days later, she’s surprised to find Bubba sitting on her porch. If you remember from previous novels, Bubba is actually Elvis, turned into a vampire at the last possible minute by a fan. As Sookie says, he isn’t “the sharpest tool in the shed.” But he does follow direction well, and Eric sent him to guard Sookie until he can visit her. Kind of Eric to think of her, but now Sookie is dealing with the logistics of how to allow Bubba to guard her while she works, while not revealing him to everyone at Merlotte’s bar.
She plans to stash him in Sam’s office. But when she goes into Sam’s office to prepare him for their visitor, their conversation is interrupted by a man grabbing Sookie’s shoulder. He has his fist cocked to punch her in the head, but doesn’t take into account the vampire blood Sookie has ingested—she’s pretty darn fast. And by the time she’s finished ducking that punch, Bubba has killed him, and is very proud of himself for protecting her. The dead man is wearing a vest decorated with a wolf’s head against the background of a white moon, which Sam is able to identify as a werewolf. There’s nothing for it but to dispose of the body, so Sam and Sookie use the were’s own duct tape to wrap him up and then place him in his own car. Just in time, too, as detective Kevin Pryor was trying to come in the room!
With that taken care of, Sookie utilizes one of her great talents—departmentalization—and puts aside recent events to do her job. While she’s waitressing, her friend and coworker, Arlene, reveals that the biker was looking for her, not by name, but as the “waitress dating Bill Compton.” Arlene pointed her out—good friend, that.
The bar is practically empty when Pam arrives, Eric’s associate and co-owner of vampire bar Fangtasia. Sookie can tell something is wrong, and finally Pam shares that Bill has gone missing. He had been in Jackson, Mississippi—not Seattle—and whoever was after him is probably looking for Sookie too. Pam gets Eric on the phone. He tells her to live her life, act normally, and one of them will be guarding her all the time. He vows to avenge Bill, and protect her. Pam also reveals, in what appears to be a moment of caring for Sookie, that Bill had some bad news to tell her. Eric refuses to tell her what this bad news is, and hangs up the phone.
Sookie goes home, and spends the night mourning their relationship, understandably feeling devastated. But when the sun comes up, she takes the computer from Bill’s house, and hides it in her own. That done, she returns to wallowing in misery, and eventually falls asleep.
When she wakes up, she is cuddling Eric in her bed. Once Sookie recovers from her surpise, she invites Eric’s business partners, Pam and Chow, into the house. Eric confirms that Bill has been kidnapped, though they are not sure by whom. They do know that the king of Mississippi, Russel Edgington, is involved. (FYI, kingdoms are divided into areas, and Eric is sheriff of area 5, which in regency romance terms, probably makes him a duke. Just sayin’).
The clock is ticking. Eric suspects it may be due to Bill’s special project, which Bill was working on without his knowledge. If Bill gives out Sookie’s name to his captors, they will find her, and take her to use as leverage. Or to steal the computer. And while Sookie denies any knowledge of the project, even Eric doesn’t believe her. Eric, spurred on by Pam’s earlier comment, does tell Sookie the truth behind Bill’s trip—he was summoned by his ex-girlfriend, a vampire named Lorena. While his original reasons for visiting her aren’t known, once there, he became instantly enthralled with her again. He even called Pam to say he was coming home to arrange for Sookie’s “future care” so that he could be with Lorena. Meaning, he planned to pension off Sookie. But as angry as Sookie might be, all their lives depend on what she does now. Both Eric and Pam will also be culpable to the queen, if Bill isn’t available when his project is due.
I love Sookie’s summary of Eric’s thought process through their conversation.
“I might have to torture you [for information], but I want to have sex with you; I need Bill, but I’m furious with him because he deceived me; I have to keep peace with Russell Edgington, but I have to get Bill back from him; Bill is my serf, but he’s secretly working more for my boss.”
What a tangle! But Eric is dealing the best he can, and is sending one of his contacts to help Sookie, a were with friends among the supernatural community. She’s to go to Jackson and meet the supernaturals there, covertly listening in to their thoughts for news of Bill. Theoretically, Eric will help her get Bill back, and then she will be safe again.
And Eric shares something pretty key. He says “I am your friend, and that will last as long as I can be your friend without jeopardizing my own life. Or the future of my area.” And while Sookie summarizes it as, “you’re my friend when it’s convenient for you,” even she admits that is both unfair and inaccurate. He genuinely cares about her.
Sookie agrees to help on one condition—if something happens to her, Eric will kill Lorena. Not because she slept with Bill, but because she betrayed him.Eric laughs, but agrees, saying “you might make a decent vampire, Sookie.”
The next morning, Eric’s contact shows up—Alcide Herveaux, the werewolf. And a pretty attractive one, at that. In a charmingly domestic scene, Sookie makes him breakfast. Sookie cooks, Alcide helps himself to orange juice, and she is reminded of what life could be like with a normal, daylight-enjoying man. He even helps with the dishes! As Sookie says, “he was a proper man.”
After breakfast, they get down to business…the business of finding Bill, that is. Eric holds a marker of Alcide’s dad, who is an inveterate gambler, so Alcide really has no choice but to help Sookie. Of course, now that he’s seen her, he’s glad to do it.
Alcide plans to bring Sookie, as his date, to a supernaturals-only nightclub in Jackson. Sookie uses this opportunity to ask about his relationship status, and finds out that his ex-girlfriend—Debbie—broke up with him for a were-owl. And don’t forget about her, because Debbie has a larger role to play.
Sookie calls Sam to let him know she’ll be out of town, and he is naturally concerned. When he finds out she’s with Alcide, he seems to know him (or know of him) and asks to speak to him. They have a private conversation about her, which annoys Sookie to no end. Alcide apparently promised to take care of her, and they depart for Jackson in peace.
On their drive, Alcide gives Sookie a bit of background about werewolves. So, if I might take a moment to share some more aspects of the world’s mythology:
Shape shifters is a general term for supernaturals who can change their shape. They can technically change into any animal they choose, but most often change into the same animal every time, calling themselves by that animal: weredog, werebat, weretiger. Weres must marry weres to product another, and each union only produces one child with the were trait. If someone is bitten, however, they turn into a were-man. These hybrids tend to die pretty quickly, and that trait is not passed along when they have children. But in the shape-shifter community, “were” is a term used most often for were-wolves. They scorn variance in form, taking only that of a wolf, and are a bit snobby about other shape shifting kinds.
When Alcide and Sookie arrive in Jackson, they go straight to Alcide’s apartment. While Alcide runs out to visit clients, he sends Sookie to visit his sister Janice at her salon. Sookie and Janice bond immediately, and Janice insists on giving her a manicure, pedicure, and doing her hair. Apparently Sookie has pretty gorgeous, thick, naturally blonde hair. Hate her. Anyways, Janice wants her to look extra pretty for the club tonight, as Debbie will be there, announcing her engagement to the were-owl. Sookie is wishing there was a way to repay her for her kindness, when the opportunity presents itself. Her telepathy alerts her to a customer stealing Janice’s earrings, and she is able to retrieve them for her without embarrassing either Janice or the customer.
When Sookie leaves her room, ready to go to the club, she looks so “mouthwatering” (to quote Alcide) that the coke Alcide was pouring flowed over the edge of the glass and onto the ground. But looking that good can cause problems, as Sookie discovers. First, they go to dinner with a few of Alcide’s business associates. While they are on their way to the club, Alcide asks her opinion of them. Sookie lets loose with the contents of their thoughts, and Alcide is…astonished, to put it lightly. And while at first he is uncomfortable, once he hears that shifter thoughts are much more opaque, he comes to terms with her power.
They arrive at the club, technically known as Josephine’s, known as Club Dead to the supernaturals. The doorman is a goblin named Mr. Hob (Get it?). The bar is full of vampires and shape shifters, along with a few human companions. Sookie immediately sees Alcide’s ex Debbie with her fiancée, and it doesn’t take long for Debbie to sashay over to their table and act like a jealous…ahem…jerk. She trades insults with Sookie, until Debbie loses the game, and stalks off.
Alcide and Sookie begin to dance, and gradually draw closer to those who have thoughts of Bill in their heads. These humans are part of the vampire king’s household, and Sookie can see that they were torturing him. As she concentrates telepathically, Alcide drops her at the bar as he takes a bathroom break. A were gang member begins to hit on her, however, and grabs her by the arms. Not for her association with Bill, but just because he wants her to join them at their table. When Sookie refuses, he gets violent. Sookie fights him off, then Mr. Hob and Alcide step in. The fight is escalating, when a small vampire steps in—the king of Louisiana, Russsell Edgington. He defends Sookie, kicks the were out, and invites her back to the bar tomorrow. Jackpot! Exactly what she’d hoped for.
Back at the apartment, Alcide and Sookie have a moment filled with sexual tension. They kiss, but both agree it’s bad timing, and go to their respective rooms for the night. Sookie’s about to sleep, when a knock on her window startles her. Somehow she isn’t surprised to find Eric casually floating outside her window. While Sookie scolds him, Alcide rushes in and agrees to invite him in to his home. Once Eric slides through the window, Sookie updates him on the situation, and tells him that the vampires have Bill. Eric agrees that taking Russell Edgington’s invitation to visit the bar again is perfect, and then leaves.
When Sookie wakes up the next morning, Alcide is running errands. She visits Janice again, ending up with yet another mani/pedi and hairdo. When she gets back, Alcide is waiting, and Janice’s husband knocks on the door. Other than briefly shaking Sookie’s hand, he ignores her. He actually refuses to enter the apartment because Sookie is staying there, implying that she would be a bad influence. While Sookie is infuriated, she lets it go, and she and Alcide spend the afternoon playing scrabble.
As the afternoon passes, they gradually notice a smell rising in the apartment. Sookie tracks it to the closet by the door, and discovers a body in there—the body of the man who grabbed her at the bar last night, his neck broken. Both she and Alcide are astonished, and while they contemplate calling the police, they eventually decide not to—the evidence is completely against them. So they have to dispose of him. Using a shower curtain, they maneuver the body out of the apartment building, into Alcide’s car, and finally conceal him in the woods outside of Jackson. As you can imagine, it’s a tense and paranoid trip.
On the way back, they stop at Wal-Mart to get another shower curtain, air fresheners, and cleaning solution. More importantly, they finally discuss the real question…who killed him. While Sookie and Alcide confirm it was neither of them, they have no idea who actually did it. All their possibilities—Eric, Debbie, etc. are too unlikely.
They also have what can only be described as a DTR (you know, defining the relationship). They agree that they like each other, and would be happy together, but are both still stuck on their exes. So their relationship isn’t going to go anywhere—at least at this point.
When they get back to the apartment, they use air freshener and cleaner, and replace the shower curtain. And just in time, as the local werewolf packmaster stops by to check in on Alcide. The packmaster reminds Alcide to keep a low profile while he’s here, particularly as he is visiting their territory. The packmaster obviously does not know that one of his pack is dead, and buried in the woods.
As their conversation closes and the packmaster leaves, Eric arrives outside Sookie’s window, dressed in a three-piece suit and glasses—his best attempt at a disguise. When Sookie and Alcide ask about the dead werewolf, Eric denies any involvement and acts genuinely surprised. They agree that Eric will be at Club Dead also, in the guise of one of Alcide’s friends. He also tells Sookie that he fears Bill is dead, but that there is one last place to look—Russell’s mansion. So Sookie has to find a way in there, to check for Bill.
Later that night, at Club Dead, Sookie runs into her old friend Tara. Remember her from Living Dead in Dallas? Well, apparently she hasn’t learned her lesson, as she is now dating a vampire named Franklin Mott. They are at the club with Russell and his consort, Talbot. Partway through the evening, Sookie is distracted by hearing the word “martyrdom” in the mind of a human around her, and she tracks him over to the bar. There she sees Steve Newlin, the founder of The Fellowship of the Sun, and a second man. The second man is concealing a stake in his jacket. Sookie’s afraid to speak out, for fear of revealing her telepathy…and therefore her identity. But the man pulls the stake out, and she lunges for his arm, yelling STAKE!
As she tries to fight him off, the man stakes her in the side. Immediately afterwards, Russell Edgington’s second, Betty Jo Pickard, kills him. Sookie lays on the ground as everyone is going crazy around her. Alcide turns into a wolf and runs off, Tara is screaming, everyone is running around, but Sookie stays calm…most likely due to shock. Fortunately Eric (under the alias Leif) is there, and he doesn’t leave her. He speaks with Russell, convincing him to save Sookie, and travels with her back to Russell’s mansion.
Russell calls upon one of his vampires to heal Sookie, a vampire with an excess of coagulant in his venom. He essentially drinks from her wound until it begins to heal. Eric holds her hand the whole time, and in an interesting moment of trust, Sookie allows him to glamour her into unconsciousness.
Sookie wakes in bed with Eric, and he kisses her. Fortunately (to Sookie’s mind) they are interrupted by Bubba, as he climbs through the window of Russell’s mansion. They send him out to search the estate for Bill. Eric convinces Sookie to drink some of his blood—it will heal her wound, and will also give her more strength to search for Bill, and deal with any opponents. Eric quite enjoys giving her blood, and while that does make Sookie a little uncomfortable, she is also intrigued, even more so as Eric’s blood is incredibly potent. Sookie feels stronger, she glows, and she can tell when Eric is near.
Bubba comes back with the news of Bill’s location—a carriage house on the property. He’s being tortured by his ex, Lorena, and has werewolves guarding him during the day. As the full moon will keep the werewolves distracted from their duty, Eric and Sookie determine that there will never be a better time for a rescue attempt. Eric procures an escape car, and wishes Sookie the best as she tries to smuggle Bill out during the day. All the vampires will be asleep, so Eric is unable to help her, which he definitely doesn’t appreciate. Eric leaves her with one of my favorite exit lines ever:
“I don’t like having feelings.”
Classic. Anyway, Sookie sneaks out of the mansion at dawn, and finds the building where Bill is held. He is in the center of a room, lashed to a chair with silver chains. Off to the right is a dormitory-style room, with a werewolf asleep on a cot. With the extra strength from Eric’s blood, Sookie is able to pry off his chains—an agonizing process for Bill. She is helping him stand up when Lorena finds them. Lorena takes a brief moment for the classic taunting-villain speech, where she insults Sookie’s relationship with Bill, then leaps for Sookie. Sookie had the foresight to grab a stake, and without conscious thought, moves the stake up as Lorena lands on her, pushing the stake through her heart.
Pretty traumatic, but Sookie holds it together and gets Bill out to the car. She gets him into the trunk, and then goes back to move Lorena’s body. Eric’s blood comes in handy again, as Sookie is strong enough to hide her in the pool, under the cover. Then Sookie just drives out the gates, through the checkpoint, and (after asking for directions at a gas station) to the parking garage of Alcide’s apartment.
While she waits for Eric—and for Bill to wake up—Sookie takes a nap in the car. When she wakes, she goes to the trunk to check on Bill, but someone comes up behind her and pushes her in, slamming the trunk door closed. Sookie recognizes the brain signature as Debbie, Alcide’s crazy ex. Now Sookie is stuck with a vampire, maddened by starvation and torture. She tries to get out, but since Eric stole what could only be a drug dealer’s car, the trunk is protected from the usual escape methods.
And when Bill wakes up, it’s bad. I’ll leave it at that.
When Bill comes to himself, Sookie is barely conscious, and soon faints. She wakes to Eric, Bill, and Alcide hovering anxiously around her. And she remembers something she hadn’t registered before—that the guards at Russsell’s gate had mentioned a crucifixion.
Sookie realizes that Bubba has been captured, and the Mississippi vampires have no idea who he is. Fortunately, this problem is easily remedied by a phone call (a hilariously revolutionary idea to the vampires), and Bubba is saved just in the nick of time. The Mississippi vampires even ask to host him for a while!
Sookie also tells the story of Bill’s rescue, and Eric is very proud that she, and I quote, “offed Lorena.” Soon after, Debbie comes to Alcide’s apartment. They have a rousing fight, in which Alcide claims to have slept with Sookie (not true). And Bill is angry…which in turn evokes Sookie’s own anger. She finally says everything she’s been waiting to say this whole book… even almost strangling Bill.
When she calms down, Bill tells her what all the fuss is about. Apparently, he’s been compiling a directory of vampires—their history, and power. And everyone seems to want it.
Sookie asks Eric to take her home, and he agrees. After all this, her trouble must be over, right? But no. They stop at a gas station at 1 in the morning, on their way back to Bon Temps. Sookie needs to use the convenience store restroom, but when she gets out, two armed robbers are threatening the convenience store clerk. They’re asking about a blonde woman—Sookie. The clerk tries to cover for her, allowing her to escape out the back. She finds the clerk’s shotgun, uses a pocketknife to poke a hole in the robbers’ tires, and then Eric finds her. He was being held by a vampire net made of silver, and just escaped.
Sookie crawls around to the front, and fires a shotgun blast into the ceiling. She holds the gun on the robbers until the clerk is able to call the police, and Eric is able to glamour them into staying in place. They find that the werewolf gang in Jackson had hired the humans to track down Sookie and bring her back to Jackson—they believed that she was involved with a member’s disappearance. Meaning, the dead guy she’d found in her closet. Eric glamours them into forgetting that they saw Sookie, and they leave before the police arrive.
Eric is quite put out that Sookie was the one to rescue the situation—his manly ego is wounded. Sookie is annoyed by this attitude, but when Eric comments on the poor state of her driveway, she finally explodes with all her vampire related problems. She keeps getting hurt, she has no money because she can’t work, because she had to run errands for vampires. It’s all true, it needed to be said, and Eric listens.
But in classic Sookie fashion, her troubles are not yet over. Just as she’s walking into her house, she realizes that someone is already there. Men grab her, and shoot Eric several times. They begin to beat her, asking her where the vampire is. She fights back and defends herself as best she can, but it’s not enough. Fortunately Eric and Bill come rushing in, and tear her attackers apart. Literally.
While Sookie is resting from her ordeal, Bill explains that he has made a deal with Russell Edgington, so that he can be free from pursuit. He agreed to leave Bill alone if he shared how he escaped (so that Edgington can ensure it doesn’t happen again), and if he allows the king to put in a bid for the vampire directory.
Sookie eventually falls asleep, and when she wakes up, she discovers that Eric has bought new gravel for her driveway, and had it put down while she slept. Alcide visits later that day, and shares that Debbie asked him to kill Sookie. Obviously he refused, and while he and Sookie don’t plan to pursue a relationship, he does kiss her before he leaves.
That night, Pam arrives, followed soon by Bubba, who just so happens to mention that he killed a were and stuffed him in Alcide’s closet. Mystery solved! He was just protecting Sookie, as he had been ordered to do. Eric and Bill arrive later that night, and their attempts to claim Sookie frustrate her so much that she rescinds their invitations to her home. There she is, alone at last…and with Bill’s directory, which no vampire can access without her permission.
Thus ends the third installment in Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series. And what a book it is. Sookie is beaten, abused, but also once again, triumphs over her opposition. At one point, Sookie contemplates the effect the vampires have had on her life, saying, “I realized that my temper had been showing more and more lately. Ever since I’d gotten to know the vampires.” This is true. But more than that, Sookie’s ruthlessness is showing. She asks Eric to kill Lorena if she fails, but ends up killing her herself. And while her association with vampires may have a correlation, I don’t believe it has changed who Sookie is. Rather, these circumstances are showing who she really is—a good person who will also do whatever it takes to survive, and take care of those she loves. Even Bill, who has betrayed her, she goes to incredible lengths to rescue.
At the same time, Sookie is developing other bonds, with Eric in particular. There are several moments of harmony between these two in this book, most notably when she is staked at the bar. There Eric shows that he is someone Sookie can count on. As before, when attached, Eric stays with Sookie rather than pursuing the attacker. When Sookie sees Russell’s mansion, she says “Russell was like the gay vampire Hugh Hefner, and this was the playboy mansion.” Lots of attractive men, just not ones that would be interested in Sookie. Sookie, in her pain, still manages a joke:
“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink, I said, and Eric laughed out loud. That was why I liked him, I thought rosily; he “got” me.”
Perhaps her pain meds made her a bit more honest?
As for Bill, where to start? While Sookie misses Bill, she seems to miss that feeling of belonging to someone, of being part of a relationship, more than Bill himself. As she says, “Bill had become almost as necessary to me as water; and not entirely because of my deep feelings for him, or my physical pleasure in his lovemaking. Bill was the only insurance I had against being annexed by another vampire, against my will.” She needs him for the vampire world, not just for himself. Putting aside the reprehensible Lorena situation, even the small things show a thoughtless side to Bill’s character. When Bill realized in Living Dead in Dallas that Andy and Portia are his descendants, he left an anonymous legacy to the family, allowing them to fix their mansion and live in a more luxurious style. Yet Sookie, his girlfriend, can barely make her rent. And while this book says a lot about Bill’s character, I find what it shows about Sookie’s character to be even more important.
Now Alcide is an interesting one—the epitome of masculinity, with his pickup truck, surveying business, and macho tendencies. At the same time, he’s very kind to Sookie. They have chemistry and a connection, but as readers we see Alcide’s faults. For one, he cannot get over Debbie, his homicidal ex. He’s also rather pretentious about werewolves, and it is plain to Sookie that he will never be happy with anyone other than a were…an idea that will play out in later books.
I must admit to some confusion, however, when it comes to the shifter culture. While earlier books (including this one) describe shape shifters as supernaturals that can turn into any animal, later books seem to imply that certain shifters can only turn into one. Did anyone else notice that, or have some insight to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Don’t forget to join us next week for the fourth book in the series, Dead to the World.
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.