Every May for more than a decade in my house has been marked by the release of a new Charlaine Harris Sookie Stackhouse novel. It was as much a part of the end of spring as resigning yourself to damp underwear. When the series ended last year, I wondered what the ever-prolific Harris would fill the void with. The answer is an excellent new trilogy that captures the same magic as the world of Bon Temps, Louisiana, and takes it to another level.
We get our latest hero with slightly metahuman powers in the form of Manfred Bernardo. He's a psychic who prefers to make his money using his abilities over the Internet even though he is truly a gifted seer with real power. He comes to the strange town of Midnight, Texas. to work in quiet away from prying eyes, but in true Harris fashion, a body is found and he's quickly drawn into the town's mysteries.
Despite the focus on Bernado, Midnight Crossroads is much more of an ensemble novel than the Sookie books. It's a welcome and interesting new way to look at the world that she created in those books, and it lends an exciting sort of world building that wasn't as present when we were watching the creatures of the night come out through Sookie's eyes alone. In many ways, it's the perfect modern version of Salem's Lot, and Harris has actually out Kinged Stephen King.
Everything we've experienced from Harris supernaturally is there. We get vampires and werewolves, and other beasties all living quite openly in rather mundane and realistic ways. That's always been Harris's gift in supernatural storytelling. No matter how unlikely or fantastic an element she might introduce into her pages it's always down-home and believable. She's the Mark Twain of things that live under your bed.
Much of the novel focuses on a 24-hour pawn shop. It's run by Bobo during the day and by a vampire at night. Every scene in the shop is just a gift to a boy like me that rattled around the seedier parts of East Houston buying up the treasures that meth heads sold off for drugs. The sort of people you imagine constantly hanging around pawn shops? Imagine them, but now they can turn into snakes and drink human blood. Shenanigans abound, and all with Harris' unique voice and touch.
Oh, and while I can't really tell you much without spoiling a very important part of the story, Midnight Crossroads features the best peripheral character Harris has ever written since Bubba showed up and started eating cats. It may be just one long Sabrina the Teenage Witch Joke, but it's at least a good joke. I fully spent the last 30 pages laughing out loud...
Except for the times I was exclaiming, "Oh my God".
Because there is something else that Harris is the undisputed master of in the realm of monsters. She can fill a book with more bloodsuckers than a summit of lawyers or throw in monstrous demigods that hunt human flesh all she wants. She's got a message, though, and that message is always that humans can be far greater beasts than the terrors we project onto fantastic races. That's the trade-off for her terrible realism, that we must face the fact that what is under our bed is no more dangerous than things we may encounter on a pleasant picnic under a Texas sun.
Midnight Crossroads is out now.