Subtitled The Sookie Stackhouse Stories, this is, unsurprisingly, a collection of short stories featuring Harris' most popular heroine, a telepathic barmaid lusted after by virtually every male supernatural creature who crosses her path. The series is now up to its ninth installment and the stories, written for various collections, span Sookie's character trajectory over that time. Harris provides a time frame, and presents them chronologically. I would think that elements of each plot would be less satisfying for a reader unfamiliar with Harris's universe but enough background is woven in that that new readers won't be wholly lost. Familiar readers may welcome the return of characters who are now dead or estranged, and though Harris writes in the introduction that she was unsure when first approached to write a Sookie short that she'd be able to her justice in a more abbreviated format, I think she sells herself a little short. The stories fit into the overall narrative relatively smoothly, without creating events that would make the novels incomplete.
"Fairy Dust" takes place after the fourth novel, Dead to the World - Sookie is asked to investigate the murder of Claudette, a fairy who works as an exotic dancer, by her surviving triplets, Claude (also a dancer) and Claudine, and through a combination of telepathy, clever questioning and her knowledge of the Fae, is able to identify the killer and the motive.
In "Dracula Night" regional vampire Sheriff Eric Northman is excited by the potential visit to his vamp club Fangtasia, on the night honoured by vampires across the globe, of legendary vampire and birthday boy Dracula. Though his second, Pam, is sceptical, Eric has invested in ultra rare and extremely costly bottled blood and spared no expensive for the occasion. Sookie is surprised to receive an invitation, and even more surprised that Dracula (apparently) exists - in a move akin to the traditional belief that you should set a place at the Passover table in case Elijah drops by, in vampire lore Dracula turns up at one of the parties celebrating his birthday every year, and this year Eric believes it will be his.
"One Word Answer" introduces Sookie to Mr Cataliades, a part-demon lawyer who works for Sophie-Anne Leclerq, the Queen of Louisiana - he brings Sookie an increasingly unwelcome pieces of news, starting with the fact that her cousin Hadley is dead, that she was a vampire, that she was the lover of the Queen, and that she was murdered. The final, and most unwelcome, item of information id that Sookie is expected to deal with Hadley's killer a fellow vamp Mr Cataliades has brought along for the trip. Sookie must negotiate a delicate path between not offending the Queen, failing to honour her cousin, protecting herself, and maintaining her reputation.
In "Lucky" Sookie and new friend (and witch) Amelia Broadway are asked by insurance agent Greg Aubert to investigate who's been breaking in to his office in the evenings and going through his papers. They discover that the breaker in is unrelated to other events, which have creates a wave of unintended ill-fortune for a number of people, inadvertently caused by Greg.
"Gift Wrap" is a holiday tale that brings Sookie a special Christmas surprise in the guise of an imperilled stranger - a surprise that is more of a gift than Sookie realised, and about which I can say no more without spoiling the delicate unfurling of events.
Like most anthologies I found A Touch of Dead somewhat mixed. I recognised the strongest story, "One Word Answer" and found I'd read it before. I quite liked "Gift Wrap" but was a little uncomfortable with the manipulation, albeit benign, involved, and felt the section spelling out Sookie's personality a little heavy-handed and obvious. All in all not a bad collection and an enjoyable enough way to spend an hour but I think I prefer the novels. - Alex