Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Guilty Pleasures

by Laurell K. Hamilton


Anita Blake is short, scarred and scared of vampires. But they also know her as The Executioner. She's the type of woman who refuses to be a victim, no matter what. That's not as easy as it seems in St. Louis since vampirism has come into the open and new laws have been passed to accommodate the inhuman and the differently alive.

Anita works for Animators Inc., raising the dead for a living. When she's offered a job looking into a number of murders she turns it down flat, on the principle that she won't work for vampires. But some of them can be very persuasive, and they have ways of getting under her skin and messing with her head.

Although it really isn't her style, Anita is talked into attending a bachelorette party. She doesn't drink, and the attractions on offer at the Guilty Pleasures nightclub repel her. The supernatural and the ordinary rub shoulders uneasily in this version of America, and there are factions that lobby against vampire rights. At the other end of the spectrum there are certain clubs that attract vampire junkies, humans who can't resist the lure of the undead for one reason or another. Anita has some resistance to their charms, but she's wary of looking into a vampire's eyes and being hypnotised and enslaved.

The main character has a self-deprecating manner and a black sense of humour that makes her all-American narrative fun and zingy. She encounters ghouls, were-beasts, zombies and of course vampires whilst on the trail of a killer, and she's in and out of lethal situations all the time. It's an adrenaline-packed story, but in many ways it's quite quirky as well. What happens when Anita gets trapped in a rat-infested dungeon is unexpected and rather gross, for instance. Guilty Pleasures can be funny. but not to the extent of dampening the tension one iota.

The vampire junkies are one of the most interesting aspects of this story. There's Rebecca, a small, thin, frightened woman who lives in squalor and is surrounded by death. We also meet Phillip, a heavily-scarred young man who dances and strips at a vampire club even though he's trying to avoid that scene. It's possible to read this novel as a metaphor for the struggle against drug addiction, although the vampires are more than mere symbols for the deadly lure of narcotics. They also stand for the temptations of sex and the possibility of losing one's soul. Anita is invited to orgies, and various characters try to seduce her, but she's very reluctant to give in. She's almost prudish, hanging on to her cross and her arsenal of weapons with the grim conviction of a modern-day Crusader. But this isn't a simple battle between the forces of darkness and light, when corruption and evil aren't the sole preserve of the the undead. Anita has to do more than scratch the surface to discover who she can trust.

Guilty Pleasures is a little saucy, but it's much more of a blood-spattered all-action meatfeast. The central mystery is satisfyingly well-conceived. And along the way we encounter all kinds of freaks and nasty species of the undead, so that the vampires never lose their frisson of danger and their sense of otherness. After the novel comes to a climax it ends quite quickly. But it's a sharp, pointy ending that matches the prose in the rest of the book: there are no wasted words, but it hits its mark and stakes it good.

29th June 2011

Book Details

Decade: 1990s

Categories: Books

    Female Protagonist  

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5 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Laurell K. Hamilton