Many of these stories just add a bit more flavor to the overall setting of Bon Temps and Sookie's life, but a few impart information only hinted at in the pages of the main books, so they will help fill in some of the gaps that readers might have noticed over the years.
This is the earliest short story, but it takes place after the fourth book, so a lot of plot points in the world have already happened. Sookie and Bill's relationship has run its course and Sookie already has had the revelations about her bloodline and her connection to fairies. Given that this story focuses on Sookie's fairy cousins, that's kind of a key point.
In Fairy Dust, Claudine asks her psychic cousin to go to a strip club where Claudine's brother and sister, Claude and Claudette, work, that is, until Claudette's very recent death. Now Sookie must investigate the people that work at that club to determine if any of them are responsible for the triplets becoming twins.
In the second story, Sookie is invited to Fangtasia to celebrate one of the few holidays vampire's recognize, Dracula's birthday. Eric, who is apparently a bit of a fanboy to the first vampire that refused to stay hidden to the world, is putting on quite a party and he hopes desperately that the man himself will make an appearance. He's even sprung for some high-end beverages that Dracula is said to prefer, much to Pam's chagrin. Needless to say, Eric's second-in-command is less than amused by the way Eric acts at this time of year.
One Word Answer
This story takes place just before Definitely Dead, and it not only introduces readers to Sookie's more human cousin, Hadley, but the fact that she ran away to New Orleans some years before and has now apparently not only been turned into a vampire, but became a favorite of the Queen of Louisiana and has just been killed. While doing gardening at night with the vampire known only as Bubba, Sookie is approached by a limo. When two servants of the Queen leave the car and explain Hadley's death, Sookie must not only deal with her own feelings about the path her estranged cousin's life led since their teenage years, but she also must consider exactly what she is being told and why. Sookie quickly realizes that there is more to this meeting than what's on the surface, but she has only a limited time to figure out the full ramifications of the visit.
This story has a local insurance salesman, Greg, hiring Sookie and her new roomate, the witch Amelia Broadway, to investigate the break-ins that are happening in his office at night. While nothing appears to be disturbed, Greg knows something is up. Greg is a witch himself, but not a very well-versed one. He knows someone has been disturbing his wards, but outside of the basic protection around his home and office and the ability to give his customers a bit of extra luck, he doesn't have a lot of skill. Sookie and Amelia take a much need break from their other chores to help Greg out, and what they discover is that something seems to be running afoul all of the insurance agencies in Bon Temps.
Between Sookie's friends having plans of their own and a fight between her and Jason, her brother, keeping them apart, Sookie finds herself alone on Christmas. But, what started as a day of brooding changes quickly when she goes to investigate a noise in her woods and discovers an injured werewolf who was apparently part of a treaty talk between two packs using her land as neutral territory. Between patching up the injured shapeshifter and keeping ahead of the pack that is looking for him, Sookie and her guest quickly become friends, and before the day is over, she won't be quite as alone as she was before.
In this story, Eric is forced by his new boss to send Sookie and Pam to a vampire-run establishment in Mississippi to determine if the proprietor is interested in defecting from Russell Edgington's territory to that of King Felipe de Castro. As you might expect, nothing is as clear-cut as it first appears and the two ladies will have to do some fast thinking if they are to get back to Eric's domain without getting into too much trouble.
Clocking in at around 100 pages, this is the longest story in the collection. Sam's brother is getting married and Sam has asked Sookie to join him in Texas for the nuptials. Given that weres and other shapeshifters have just come out to the world, tension is high, especially since Sams' stepfather didn't react all that well when his mother showed the man her ability. He shot her. Now the stepfather is in jail and while Sam's mother is healed, there is still a lot of tension in the small town. As the big day draws closer and closer, more and more signs of the coming unease become apparent until they come to a head on the wedding day itself.
If I Had a Hammer
What starts as a small remodeling project turns into something more when Sookie, Sam, Tara, JB (Tara's husband) and Quiana, the nanny for Tara and JB's twins, disturb a ghost that has been waiting in the walls of Tara's house for several generations. A hammer found in the walls turns out to be a long-lost murder weapon, and before the group can decide exactly what to do with the item, a heavy and dark presence starts to fall over the house. The five adults, with two babies in tow, have to not only figure out who is haunting them, but how to stop the spirit, all while under the gloom of its malevolent presence.
While many of Sookie's adventures have some dark elements to them, there is still a generally lighthearted feel to the overall story. That isn't so much the case in Playing Possum. When Sookie goes to her "nephew's" school to deliver some cupcakes, an employee's disgruntled boyfriend shows up with a gun and ill intentions. Sookie once again has to think fast in order to keep herself and those around her alive, but at least this time she has an extra advantage, she can "talk" mind-to-mind with Hunter, Hadley's young son, a trick that will come in handy when trying to manipulate the shooter into make a wrong move.
In the Blue Hereafter
There are a few differences between In the Blue Hereafter and the rest of the stories in this collection. For one, it takes place after the final novel, and for another, it isn't from Sookie's point-of-view. Instead it follows Manfred Bernardo, a main character from Harris' other works, Harper Connelly and Midnight, Texas. Drawn to stop in the small northern Louisiana town of Bon Temps by the ghost of his grandmother, Manfred finds himself at a softball tournament trying to figure out exactly what game the spirit of Xylda wants from him. While watching a game, he meets a local barmaid that happens to be a particular psychic and the two get to talking about their lives and their own abilities. When the pair notice that a coach for one of the teams seems to be using magic to manipulate the game, Sookie becomes determined to stop the guy from cheating and Manfred continues to wonder exactly why he was sent to Bon Temps; surely it wasn't just to keep this small softball game from being rigged, right? Before Manfred leaves Louisiana and continues on his journey, he will have a few more clues about where he is going and he will know for sure why his grandmother sent him to meet Sookie.
I've read all but the last couple Southern Vampire Mysteries novels and enjoyed them all, but it had been many years since I finished reading Dead Reckoning, and simply hadn't had time to finish off the series to see how Harris wraps everything up. The Complete Sookie Stackhouse Stories feels like slipping on a pair of soft and familiar slippers that fit just right. From starting the first sentence of Fairy Dust to wrapping up Manfred's time in Bon Temps, this book was an easy and enjoyable read that is indicative of the rest of the series.
It is worth noting though, that this isn't the first time many of these stories have been collected. The first five of these were published in A Touch of Dead. If you've already picked up that collection, then The Complete Sookie Stackhouse Stories might not be as good a deal for you, but if you are like me and you don't have any of them, then this is a great collection to pick up.