Thursday, 5 November 2009

‘A Touch of Dead’ – Charlaine Harris (Gollancz)

Apparently there’s a show on right now called ‘True Blood’ that’s about vampires in Louisiana. Sounds cool, if only I had a TV to watch it on (curse me for my irrational hatred of the TV licence etc)... In these situations, it’s always good to be able to fall back on TV tie-in fiction or, in Charlaine Harris’ case, the fiction that inspired the TV show that I’m unable to watch.
I’ve actually already read ‘Dead before Dark’ (the first book in the ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ series) but haven’t got round to reviewing it here just yet. It’s not a bad read at all and it prompted me to give ‘A Touch of Dead’ a go when it came through the door.

‘A Touch of Dead’ is a collection of short stories that fit in at various places throughout the ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ series. In my new found spirit of ‘diving straight into a series’, I thought it could be cool to see how much this book would stand on it’s own as a read or if you really needed to have read the other books first (as well as seeing if the stories were any good of course!) It also weighs in at a very slender one hundred and ninety two pages long which made it a nice quick read to chill out with after a busy night last night!

Each of the five stories in ‘A Touch of Dead’ are self contained and have enough background information to make diving straight in fairly easy. Here’s the thing though... In her introduction, Harris places each story in context to the rest of the series; making it clear that the reader will get the most out of these stories if they have read the other books first. The other point here is that if you haven’t read the rest of the books first then you run a pretty big risk of encountering some pretty hefty spoilers. I’ve only read ‘Dead until Dark’ so when I read through ‘A Touch of Dead’ it was to the accompaniment of “Who’s dead?’, “He did what?” and “I didn’t even know that character and now they’re dead too!”
The stories work fine on their own; just beware of the spoilers if you’re reading ‘A Touch of Dead’ before the other books in the series.

As for the stories themselves... I really enjoyed that Harris told each story ‘how it was’. There’s no going off on angst filled tangents here (although maybe there isn’t the room in stories of this length); Sookie may have her issues but the emphasis is always on the plot at hand and what’s going on, just the way I like it. It’s also refreshing to see how Harris treats her otherworldly characters; while they’re powerful enough they’re also susceptible to human failings (and I’m not just talking about sex!) that make them more endearing to the reader and easier to get into. Have you ever met a vampire who’s a mad fanboy over Dracula? You will do when you read ‘Dracula Night’.

There is plenty happening in each tale although the layout of each story is pretty much the same in that there’s a mystery to be solved and Sookie is the one to solve it. What is good though is that Harris doesn’t always choose to go down the ‘Very Important and Probably Life Threatening’ mystery route. Sometimes mysteries crop up unexpectedly and are only important to the person that they directly affect as is the case in ‘Lucky’. What this approach gives the reader is a real sense of the community that Sookie lives and an earthier feel to the collection as a whole.

One thing I did find though was that there was a real sense of each story being ‘incomplete’ in a way. As Harris says in the introduction, each story fits in a certain place and this comes across in that they all hearken back to previous events covered elsewhere. As I haven’t read all the other books I can’t really blame ‘A Touch of Dead’ for feeling incomplete; if I had read the other books then I would probably be saying that ‘A Touch of Dead’ fills in all the gaps! It was a feeling that I got though and is worth bearing in mind if you’re thinking of picking this book up without having read the others first...

As much as I enjoyed the tales in ‘A Touch of Dead’ I couldn’t help but feel that this book is more for established fans of the series who will ‘get’ where each story goes in the established scheme of things. Time will tell whether I count myself in this group, I like what I’ve seen so far...

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten


Mardel said...

I was able to watch the first season because a friend loaned me her dvd box set. I'm not sure if I liked the series or not. I wasn't crazy about their depiction of vampires, but then it was like a lot of other visual depictions. The dramatic hissing and the wasteful way they drink blood (wasting it by letting it run down the chin...)

If you look at it like a "campy" series, then it was pretty good. There are some memorable characters in the tv series, and some crazy stuff happens.

There are similarities to the books, but both versions are good in their own way.
I have a question for you, what do you mean my a tv license? Do you mean the cost of having cable in your home? or do you have to pay an extra fee to have a tv? please excuse the ignorance, but I'm going to wonder about this now.

The Fantasizer said...

Well you're not missing much Graeme. I have seen both seasons, the show actually gets worse and worse by my opinion. It had the potential to be good but now its just another incredibly cliched and awkwardly cheesy bit o crap.

And yeah I also have the same question as Mardel, somehow I find the part about not having a TV cause of some "license". uhmmmm humorous...

Graeme Flory said...

If you live in the UK you have to have a licence to watch TV. Seriously, don't get me started on that rant! :o)

RKCharron said...

Hi Graeme :)
The True Blood show on HBO is actually very good. The secondary characters steal the show! And Eric. Wow. :)
Thanks for the review on A Touch of Dead. I like the various short stories she put out in other anthologies being combined into one book.
License to watch TV? *weeps for poor UKers*
All the best,