Enjoy this paperback, but watch your neck

Supermarket paperbacks really bite this time of year – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

With All Hallow’s Eve less than two weeks away, many readers enjoy curling up with a good Southern vampire romance horror novel on a crisp fall evening.

One of the best of the genre recently rose from the shadows of the supermarket paperback aisles – “Dead Until Dark” by Charlaine Harris (2001, Ace Books, Penguin Putnam, Inc., New York, N.Y., $5.99, 260 pages).

This is the story of Sookie Stackhouse, an attractive young barmaid who works at Merlotte’s tavern in the small northern Louisiana village of Bon Temps.

Sookie’s an intelligent, practical-minded young woman with a good sense of humor and a finely honed sense of survival. She can’t, however, seem to find a steady boyfriend. This is due in no small part to the fact that she can read minds. I guess we can all imagine what havoc that talent could wreak on a date, particularly if the male half of the equation has an exceptionally active imagination …

Then one evening a mysterious stranger wanders into Merlotte’s and orders a glass of red wine.

Guess what? Sookie can’t read his mind.

Guess what? He’s a vampire.

Er, Bill the vampire, to be precise.

And this isn’t quite as big a problem as one might imagine. “Dead Until Dark” takes place somewhere in the near future when vampires are recognized as just another segment of the population. They’re seen as victims of an unusual virus that leaves them sort of dead and subsequently allergic to all those things traditionally thought to be efficacious in repelling vampires: garlic, sunlight and silver.

Most vampires now sip artificial blood – commercially available at better taverns everywhere – have their own nightclubs, hostelries and hordes of worshipful groupies. There are even vampire police officers because they’re best suited to handling the errant neck-biters when they get a little too frisky.

For a short time, the sleepy town of Bon Temps is rather proud of its resident vampire. After all, neither nearby Homulka nor Roedale can boast their very own vampires.

Bill, a Confederate veteran of the Civil War before he joined the ranks of the undead, does his civic duty and agrees to speak before the local ladies’ historical society about his experiences during the conflict.

Unfortunately, the welcoming glow begins to fade when vampire groupies start turning up dead.

Then there’s the blood-sucking trio of Diane, Malcolm and Liam, who go roaring through the nighttime countryside in a Lincoln Continental emblazoned with bumper stickers that ask “Honk If You’re a Blood Donor!”

They just don’t know how to behave and it isn’t too long before some of the local boys are gettin’ all liquored up and hankerin’ to burn ’em out.

Meanwhile, the bodies are piling up and the police are taking a good long look at Sookie’s handsome but long-toothed boyfriend.

Will their love survive? Will anybody survive?

There’s only one way to find out, amigos. Stop by your favorite supermarket, pick up some Bloody Mary fixings and a fresh copy of “Dead Until Dark.”

Slappy Stackhorse

Originally published October 21, 2001