Dead Until Dark is the first in Harris's Southern Vampires series of novels. The series is set in present time, in an alternate universe. Japanese scientists have created a synthetic blood so close to the real thing that vampires have "come out of the coffin" and revealed themselves as a reality, not just superstition or fantasy. The synthetic blood, called "True Blood," makes it possible for the vampires who chose to do so to go "mainstream." Despite their new food source, people remain wary and prejudicial against their kind. The vampires begin campaigning for civil rights in American society.

This struggle is relatively ignored in the small Louisiana town of Bon Temps, which has never had a vampire visitor. Waitress and barmaid Sookie Stackhouse has always wanted to see one and her wish is fulfilled when William Compton walks into Merlotte's Bar and Grill one night and orders a True Blood. When Sookie saves Vampire Bill from a pair of "drainers" who want to drain his blood and sell it as "V," a popular recreational drug, she is introduced to a world she has always read about, but never encountered.

Sookie is a telepath; that is, she can read minds. The community at large shies away from her; they are afraid because they do not understand her psychic ability. Sookie has trouble making close friends and prefers not to be in a relationship because she is always acutely aware of what her romantic partners are thinking. Immediately attracted to Bill Compton, the vampire becomes even more appealing when Sookie realizes she cannot read his mind. When Bill returns saves Sookie from retribution by the drainers (by giving her his blood to prevent her from dying), their attraction is further enhanced.

Sookie has lived with Adele Hale Stackhouse (Gran), her paternal grandmother ever since her parents died in a car accident when Sookie was just seven years old. Sookie has an older brother named Jason, who lives in their parents' home, but frequents both Merlotte's and Gran's house, and is a constant presence in Sookie's life. While Gran is well-respected in the Bon Temps community, Jason is an infamous ladies' man.

When Jason's some-time girlfriends Maudette Pickens and Dawn Green are murdered, suspicions turn to Jason as the culprit. Bill is also temporarily a suspect, as both women's bodies bear fang marks, although their deaths were not caused by fang-related injuries. Detective Andy Bellefleur even suspects Sookie's boss, Sam Merlotte; one of the victims is a Merlotte's waitress.

In search of answers, Sookie asks Bill to take her to Fangtasia, a vampire nightclub in Shreveport. Fangtasia is the polar opposite of Merlotte's. While Sam's bar is frequented by the hard-working and largely intolerant people of Bon Temps and appears to be the town's social center, Fangtasia is a dimly-lit tourist trap, decorated with a Gothic color scheme and...

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