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Guilty Pleasures
      The Laughing Corpse
      Circus of the Damned
Laurell K. Hamilton
      Laurell K. Hamilton
      Laurell K. Hamilton
Orbit, 266 pages
      Orbit, 293 pages
      Orbit, 329 pages

Guilty Pleasures
The Laughing Corpse
Circus of the Damned
Laurell K. Hamilton
Laurell K. Hamilton is the author of two New York Times Best Seller series that mix mystery, fantasy, magic, horror and romance. Her Vampire Hunter novels from Ace books, featuring necromancer and crime investigator Anita Blake, began with Guilty Pleasures and continues with Incubus Dreams. Her other is about Fey princess, Merry Gentry, who is also a private investigator and began with Kiss of Shadows. She lives in St. Louis County Missouri with her husband, daughter, two pug and two part pug dogs and an ever-fluctuating number of fish.

Laurell K. Hamilton Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: A Stroke of Midnight
SF Site Review: A Caress of Twilight
SF Site Review: A Kiss of Shadows
SF Site Review: A Stroke of Midnight
SF Site Review: Incubus Dreams
SF Site Interview: Laurell K. Hamilton
SF Site Review: Seduced by Moonlight
SF Site Review: A Caress of Twilight
SF Site Review: Narcissus In Chains
SF Site Review: Blue Moon
SF Site Review: Burnt Offerings
SF Site Review: Nightseer

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

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'The vampire wasn't as old as Jean-Claude, nor as good. I sat there feeling the press and flow of over a hundred years of power, and it wasn't enough. I felt him move up through the tables. He had gone to a lot of trouble to make sure the poor humans wouldn't see him come. He would simply appear in their midst, like magic.'
Guilty Pleasures is where Laurell K. Hamilton began what was to become her vampire franchise, a kind of fast food version of Anne Rice, but with more mouthwatering ingredients. Here, readers got their first glimpse of Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter. The character is the type of woman -- most often an American woman -- that has risen to prominence in recent years. Both in the real world, and in various strands of fiction. The ghastly spectre of Political Correctness which left some men confused as to who and what they should be also allowed Anita Blake to prosper. Blake is presented as a flint hard, sexy woman, who likes men. Although strictly on her own terms. In terms of personality, she's pricklier than a box full of hedgehogs, and those foolish enough to get in her way aren't there for too long. Blake earns her living as a professional Animator; a specialist who has the ability to bring back the dead, legally, for paying customers. In this world, not even death escapes the dollar. Blake's true vocation is killing vampires, and it's a task at which she has achieved such proficiency that the local undead name her the Executioner. Not to be confused with the character Mac Bolan. Presented as a first person narrative, the plot has something in common with the classic computer game, Doom. You just have to see what is around the next corner.

Guilty Pleasures is a nightclub run by Jean-Claude, a classically styled, urbane and charming vampire of European origin. Jean-Claude is a master vamp imbued with intoxicating power, but there is one other to whom even he must answer. A vampire known as the Master of the City. Not only is this master female, but her centuries old body is that of an innocent looking, very young, blonde girl. Nickolaos, as she is named, is fixated on a serial killer, who is preying on the local vampires. What she wants is to exact her own brand of justice on whoever is responsible. Under normal circumstances, hell would freeze over before Anita Blake would willingly assist such an abomination. But these aren't normal times. Blake's best friend, Catherine, is put at great risk following a misguided flirtation with vampires which goes wrong. To save Catherine's life, Blake makes a deal with Nickolaos. What follows is, in retrospect, not dissimilar to the improbable but addictive exploits of Jack Bauer. Blake, however, is a lot more fun, because Hamilton has a better sense of humour, and is not constrained by what passes for the real world. One example of the humour, is that Blake meets her underworld contacts in Dead Dave's, a bar owned by a vampire who used to be a cop, and was kicked off the force -- for being dead.

Laurell K. Hamilton clearly put a great deal of thought into creating and populating a convincing alternate world. There's no great effort required to learn the rules, and it's different enough to stay beguiling throughout. The supporting cast, who are usually referred to on first name terms, are presented as having their own lives and pasts. Very few give the impression of being cardboard cut-outs. Worthy of a special mention are a human named Phillip, who is a masochist getting his thrills from being used and abused by vampires, Edward, a true psychopath on a mission to kill all vampires, and Malcolm, an genial master vampire who runs the Church of Eternal Life. This is billed as the first church in history that can guarantee you eternal life, and is willing to prove it!

Guilty Pleasures is a slickly realised, slightly greasy, occult themed action thriller. Laurell K. Hamilton knowingly sets aside the depth and finesse usually employed by authors writing about vampires, in favour of an all out, adrenalin fuelled rampage of supernatural slaughter, cleverly interspersed with a frisson of forbidden desire. Anita Blake knows that some vampires can be romantic and charming, but also knows that, at heart, they're all blood-suckers. As an urban vampire killer, she gives Buffy a run for her money, but this is a woman who wouldn't be seen dead with the Scooby Gang.

'Most people see you covered in blood, they just assume part of it has to be yours. They do not take into account that they are dealing with a tough-as-nails vampire slayer and corpse raiser.'
The Laughing Corpse is Anita Blake's second outing, and although it can be read as a stand-alone title, it's much better if you know the back story. The main plot concerns a killer zombie, that is quite literally tearing families apart. Hot on its cold-as-death trail are the Regional Preternatural Investigation Team, lead by Detective Sergeant Dolph Storr, and Detective Zebrowski, his generic wisecracking sidekick. Three sub-plots intertwine, dealing with the machinations of Jean-Claude, who is now Master of the City, Dominga Salvador, a powerful voodoo priestess who appears to be a harmless old lady, and Harold Gaynor, a crippled crime overlord, who wants to hire Anita to raise an ancient corpse. Most interesting of the three, to me, was Dominga Salvador, a deceptive character whose unsavoury hobby is building a better zombie.

One great strength of Hamilton's work from this stage of her career, is the attention she pays to the characterisation of her supporting cast. They include Wheelchair Wanda, a paraplegic prostitute, and Irving Griswold, a newspaper reporter who has the misfortune to suffer from the curse of lycanthropy. It's a mixture that, when added to the other recurring characters and back themes, creates a layer that is usually missing from action-oriented novels. The one major negative I found, was the high level of needless aggression displayed by Blake in non-violent aspects of her life. But this may be down to cultural differences. In North America, the character is seen as an example of a tough, independent woman, taking no flack from anyone. Readers living outside the U.S., with different cultural experiences and perceptions, may also view Anita Blake as having a bad case of testosterone poisoning. Having said that, throughout The Laughing Corpse the plot rattles along nicely, giving only small pauses for breath between each scene of mayhem. Blake, in the tradition of lead characters, takes more hits than Mike Tyson, and keeps on going. Her physical resilience, improbably coincidental luck, and fearsome fighting abilities are often hard to believe, but still result in a heady concoction which left me wanting to read more.

'"Yasmeen, no!" It was Jean-Claude coming to my aid at last, but he was going to be too late. Yasmeen bared her teeth, raised her neck back for the strike, and I couldn't do a damn thing.'
Circus of the Damned is the third title in this series, and centres around a small and dirty turf war brewing among the undead of St. Louis. Three master vampires are competing with one another to be Master of the city. Jean-Claude, the current Master, and Alejandro, a vampire who has been undead since the time of the Aztecs, both want Anita Blake as their human retainer. The third vampire, is the mysterious Mr. Oliver, a creature who is possibly the oldest vampire alive. Detectives Storr and Zebrowski are on hand to investigate the inevitable consequences of the war, along with Edward, the assassin of all things inhuman, (recurring from Guilty Pleasures), whom the vampires have named Death. We also get the hint of love interest for Anita, in the form of Richard Zeeman, a science teacher at the local junior high school. This being an Anita Blake novel, Zeeman is no run-of-the-mill academic, and has a potentially lethal association with Master vamp Jean-Claude, plus an unfortunate association with werewolves.

Once again, Hamilton's style of writing is thunderously paced, and this time features a number of claustrophobic sequences, presented in a way that both enhances and freshens the action. Blake's on-going relationships, both with regular humans and the undead, continue to develop in interesting ways. As a more subtle forerunner to the overt sexuality Hamilton was to use in her later works, the attraction between Blake and Jean-Claude smoulders. Blake admits to finding Jean-Claude physically attractive, yet never looses sight of his true nature. By the time the story reached its finale, I couldn't get rid of the impression that the author had a case of second thoughts concerning just how supernaturally powerful -- and therefore less human -- her lead character had become. The plot seemed tailored to accommodate a change planned for later. Nevertheless, the stylised untraviolence, ingenious turns of plot, and characterisation were all satisfying. Just the climactic conclusion was a little disappointing, and then only with reference to the apparent ease with which one of the main players is destroyed.

In summary, the first three books in the on-going Anita Blake series are a cut above the average action fantasy. Laurell K. Hamilton's early writing style delivers novels that are all compulsive page turners, filled with vibrancy and the promise of dark delight. Adventures that are surely movies or a TV series waiting to be made.

Copyright © 2005 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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