Charlaine Harris / Gollancz
Charlaine Harris / Gollancz Brought up in the Mississippi Delta country, Harris sets her stories in the South and her sense of place is outstanding. She is a witty, sensitive explorer of the social mores of American medium-sized southern towns. Her first two novels, Sweet and Deadly (1981) and A Secret Rage (1984), reminded me of the early novels of Margaret Millar, high praise indeed. However, recognising that to make money mystery writers must devise series featuring an unusual sleuth (vide Hercule Poirot), Harris launched into an eight novel series featuring an indomitable young woman, Aurora Teagarden. The settings were beautifully realised, the heroine delightful, the characterisation vivid, and the plots intricate. However, as always with Harris, there are darker shadows and these increase as novel succeeds novel. Then five much darker novels set in a small town called Shakespeare introduced us to Lily Barr, a karate expert and cleaning lady with a sharp eye for the idiosyncrasies of her clientele. Today, Harris is surely the queen of series writing both for quantity and quality. She has taken to weaving the paranormal into her stories without losing her grasp on place and characters – as in a melancholy but gripping four-novel series about Harper, a clairvoyant who can identify the dead once she stands over their grave and re-lives their final moments – a nightmare for murderers. However, before embarking on this very moving, chilling and sometimes scary series Harris began the story of a telepathic waitress, Sookie Stackhouse, living in a small town in northern Louisiana. With the remarkable Dead Until Dark (2001), an Anthony Prize winner, Ms Harris hit the mother lode. In 13 novels, enthusiastic fans have been introduced to an America in which vampires and shape-changers (mainly werewolves) have ‘come out of the closet’ to reactions of hatred and fear to grudging respect. The series won a huge following and a TV series, True Blood. The Stackhouse series was laid to rest last year but here begins a three-novel series set in Midnight, rural Texas. A community tiny even by Harris’ standards, Midnight is only a clump of mainly stone buildings where Davy Highway crosses Witch Light Road. There is a delightful witch, Fiji, among the dozen or so inhabitants we get to know and even a vampire, Lemuel. The rest are just a bit eccentric. The story moves slowly as we explore the community through the eyes of Manfred, a newcomer who rents a little house from Bobo. Bobo owns the Midnight Pawn and rents its cellar to Lemuel who works the night shift (naturally). Newcomer Manfred, barely 20, is a full-time psychic left over from the Harper series who operates his practice via the internet. Manfred knows Midnight is the place for him when he realises nobody has asked him where he’s from or why he’s arrived. He finds Bobo a nice chap although melancholic because his much-loved de facto wife ran off months earlier – or did she? Thanks to Bobo’s rich but very unpleasant grandfather, now deceased, sinister forces are focussed on Midnight. They will find meddling seriously hazardous. You will miss this absorbing novel when it ends and I can’t wait for the next. Enjoy!