Charlaine Harris Dead Until Dark (2001)
This was pretty exotic stuff for a telepathic barmaid from northern Louisiana.
For someone who claims not to read (i.e. enjoy) works of the fantasy genre, I seem to be catching myself out with illicit pleasures of late. Case in point: I've no idea why I decided to download Charlaine Harris' first book in the Sookie Stackhouse series. I think it was an Amazon suggestion. I've heard good things about the True Blood series on TV (based on the books), but I've not seen the show.
Anyway: loved this book. I thought, from the cover - TV tie-in - that it might be a load of old cobblers, but it is witty and well-written and driven by a strong detective/crime novel plot. The heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, is hugely likeable and manages that admirable feat of not being a ditsy bimbo who requires saving by her man. Harris has also developed a 'fantastic' world with many interesting trimmings against which she sets her human, vampire and other supernaturally endowed cast.
When I woke up, I was still in the woods, still lying on the ground. Someone was stretched out beside me; it was the vampire. I could see his glow. I could feel his tongue moving on my head. He was licking my head wound. I could hardly begrudge him.
The heroine, Sookie, is a human with the gift of telepathy. She can see into people's minds. This causes her some problems: it's like having a constant stream of noise - mixed with unwanted imagery - in her head. Her 'disability' makes her lead a quite reclusive life apart from her job as - of all things - a waitress in a diner in a small Louisiana town. Into her life comes Bill, her first vampire customer, and, lo and behold, it turns out that she can't read vampires' thoughts and her mind is finally free of the constant stream of garbage and personal revelations which deny her peace. But into her peace also comes a string of vicious serial killings which the locals would like to pin on the new vampire in town. Vampires only 'came out of the coffin' two years before events open, and they are a feared minority because of their great strength and their habit of drinking human blood. Those who 'mainstream' - who try to live like humans - benefit from advances in artifical blood production, but human blood remains a very basic longing. Oh, and they're sexually voracious too, which has both its pluses (for Sookie and the "fang-bangers") and its minuses (for the haters). Harris' imagination is quite extraordinary, as demonstrated by her range well-drawn, eccentric characters - human and vampire ("He was wearing blue jeans and Grateful Dead T-shirt"). I also enjoyed the sly humour in her young human - old vampire relationship:
Bill held my car door open as I got in, a carefully calculated series of maneuvers to keep as much of me as possible in the dress. He shut the door and got in on the driver’s side. I wondered who had taught him to drive a car. Henry Ford, probably.
If you liked this... I've now read the second in the series too - Living Dead in Dallas (I find both the titles and the covers completely off-puttingly corny; they in no way do justice to Harris' excellent writing) and while I did not think it was as strong as the first in the series, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read and extended the supernatural world in all sorts of interesting directions. I'm thinking about the third now (Club Dead). Or I might read The Radleys by Matt Haig (I enjoyed this review at shelf love).