Dead Until Dark, the first book in the Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris, is set in Bon Temps, Louisiana. It's here, in a local bar called Merlotte's, that we meet our heroine, Sookie Stackhouse. Sookie is a waitress at Merlotte's and on the surface, appears to be the typical girl-next-door. However we soon discover that Sookie has a special talent.
She can hear people's thoughts.
Many of the townspeople have heard of her talent but most of them don't believe it. That's fine with Sookie because it's hard for her to concentrate on getting her orders straight while blocking out other people's thoughts. But one night, a stranger appears in the bar. Sookie is initially attracted to him for 2 reasons: he's new in town and he's a vampire.
Bill Compton, the vampire in question, has returned to his roots. When he was living and before he died in the Civil War, he lived in that area. He'd spent several years as a loner vampire and has now returned to be more mainstream.
Sookie and he strike up a short conversation but, because Merlotte's was busy that night, Sookie doesn't get to say too much for him. She does however notice that he's soon joined by two unsavory from town, the Rattrays. This causes Sookie some concern because she's not sure why the Rattrays would be interested in a vampire. She approaches their table to tune in to what their thinking and discovers that the Rattrays had recently been jailed for vampire draining. Before she's able to warn Bill she's called away; by the time she looks back the table is empty.
Sookie, by no means a vampire expert, knows that vampire drainers make money by capturing vampires, draining them dry, and then selling their blood to humans. There's a big market for vampire blood because drinking the blood results in increased strength and stamina. However, the vampire is usually staked after being drained or left outside to be burned to death once the sun rises.
Sure enough Sookie finds Bill outside being held down by silver chains while the Rattrays begin the draining process. She's able to save Bill (much to his surprise) and the two of them agree to meet the next night after Sookie gets off work.
Sookie and Bill soon develop a romantic relationship, much to the dismay of Sookie's brother, her boss, and many of the townspeople. But Sookie doesn't care because she's found not only someone who genuinely cares for her, she's also found that when she's around Bill she doesn't need to keep up her mental guard. You see, Sookie can't read vampire's minds. They're closed off to her. For Sookie this is a blessing because she sometimes finds it difficult to shield out other people's thoughts. So she's thrilled that she can be herself around Bill.
However, it's because of her special gift that she's approached by the local sheriff, who wants her help in solving several recent murders in the area. Sookie agrees to “listen in" on the patrons at Merlotte's to see if she can identify the killer. Coincidentally, she's also asked by Bill to accompany him to a vampire bar in Shreveport owned by one of his friends, Eric. Eric wants Sookie to find out who's been stealing money from the till. Sookie is successful in determining the identify of the thief but is attacked in the process, and nearly get killed. The rest of the book is devoted to Sookie's attempts to locate the killer in town. The ending (and the identify of the killer) are both pretty surprising. Overall, readers of urban fantasy will find this first novel in the series to be quite entertaining. Although the entire book comes in under 300 pages Charlaine Harris has done a decent job in fleshing out the primary characters and keeping the storyline tight. The book works as a standalone piece of literature but fortunately, it's just the beginning of what promises to be a great journey.
It's no wonder that authors like Charlaine Harris frequently top the bestselling urban fantasy and best fantasy stories book lists.