Fiction: “Guilty Pleasures” by Laurell K. Hamilton

Not sure if everyone’s aware, but I’m kind of into vampires. And by ‘into,’ I mean ‘know a lot about them.’ Having cut my teeth on The X-Files‘s episode “Bad Blood,” starring Luke Wilson as a sheriff who may or may not have buck teeth and may or may not be a vampire but certainly has David Duchovney singing the theme to Shaft, I progressed rather quickly through Dracula and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, it was due to a blurb’s description of this novel as “An R-Rated Buffy the Vampire Slayer” that I purchased this book in the first place, back in November 2003.

Since then, I have read this stupid book three times (this is numero tres). You’re probably asking yourself, “why has she read this three times if she calls it stupid?” Well, let me refer you to my statement at the beginning of the entry for when I attempted to read Wideacre: I am a masochist.

And really, here’s why I chose to read Guilty Pleasures again: a), I had just finished reading Jane Eyre and wanted a little more substance in my brain dessert than the Regency romances I usually frequent in these instances; b) I found myself in the Border’s romance aisle giving serious contemplation to a vampire/human romance (why? WHY???); c) The Vampire Diaries has been on hiatus TOO FUCKING LONG; d) I never actually finished reading this series the last time round, back in 2006 — hell, I didn’t even get to the part where Ms. Hamilton starts transitioning the series from a horror-filled private detective series into a supernatural midwestern philosophy series.

And where else to start, but at the beginning?

Anita Blake is an animator for Animator’s Inc., a supernatural help-center of sorts in St. Louis. Animators are those that can raise zombies. So yeah: Anita’s job is to raise the living dead. It’s kind of gross, killing chickens and feeding the zombies blood, but there’s not a lot of zombie-raisin’ in this book. (The Laughing Corpse, however, is all about zombies. That’s the next title.)

Anita also freelances as the city’s Executioner – she is responsible for the legal execution of vampire criminals. See, in this series, vampires have been ‘out of the coffin’ (same as in the Sookie Stackhouse vampire series, but meaner and more evil) for a couple of years, and are pretty much regarded citizens of the United States. Meaning, vampires are the legal undead — they just can’t vote. St. Louis is a hotbed of vampires, including the Vampire District, where tourists can mingle with honest-to-goodness vampires. Guilty Pleasures is actually the name of a vampire strip club, owned and operated by Jean-Claude No-Last-Name, a vampire who has a special connection with Anita. Mainly, he enjoys pissing her off by calling her “ma petite.” Because she’s short. Which we hear a lot. (Jean-Claude lurves Anita, be tee dubs.)

So Anita goes to Guilty Pleasures as the designated driver for the small bachelorette party, thrown for her friend Catherine, who is getting married. When she’s called out to a crime scene (murdered vampire) and returns, Catherine has been compelled by a vampire as blackmail for Anita to find the vampire murderer. For under the current new laws, vampires are people too, and killing a vampire is murder, not protection (Buffy would have been screwed). So Anita agrees to look into the murder to save her friend. But she’s not happy about it.

Other characters: Phillip, the sweet man who has a thing for being bitten by vampires; Edward, who if Anita is the Executioner, then Edward would be Death himself to vampires – a former hit man who now gets his jollies by killing vampires; Ronnie, Anita’s private detective friend who looks into a red herring for her; and Nikolaos, the vampire master of the city, who is apparently a 1,000-year-old child vampire. So, y’know, Kirsten Dunst in Interview of the Vampire, but even more awful and sadistic. And she scares the shit out of Anita.

Here’s what I like about Anita: she’s tough, and even when her instinct is to run and hide, her … whatever it is takes over. In this snippet, she’s trying to sanitize a vampire bite with Holy Water (look! a vampire story that involves Holy Water and other Catholic artifacts as weapons!), and it’s akin to pouring acid on herself:

If we hadn’t cleansed the wound with enough Holy Water, the cross would burn me, and I’d have a fresh scar. I had been brave above and beyond the call of duty. I didn’t want to play anymore. I opened my mouth to say “No,” but it wasn’t what came out. “Do it,” I said. Shit. I was going to be brave. [222]

But here’s what I don’t like about Anita. And really, I guess, it’s not something about Anita I don’t like, but how Ms. Hamilton writes. I haven’t been bothered to look up to see if this was her first novel (I don’t think it was), but what she does here is try really, really hard to make it sound like a pulp fiction, hard-boiled detective novel. But what happens is that she fails miserably.

Here’s an example:

Valentine was instantly there, kneeling by the body. “What have you done?” He couldn’t see the knife. It was shielded by Aubrey’s body.

“I killed him, you son of a bitch, just like I’m going to kill you.”

Valentine jerked to his feet, started to say something, and all hell broke loose. The cell door crashed inward and smashed to bits against the far wall. A tornado wind blasted into the room.

[…(later on down the page)…]

[Nikolaos] shrieked. “Look at me!”

And I did. I fell into the blue fire that was her eyes. The fire burrowed into my brain, pain. Her thoughts cut me up like knives, slicing away parts of me. Her rage scalded and burned until I thought the skin was peeling away from my face. Claws scrapped the inside of my skull, grinding bone into dust. [214]

So, so many things wrong up there. So many things.

And then there’s just grammatical errors:

We were standing just below a landing, a turn in the stairs. There have been times when I wished I could see around corners. This was one of them. The scrape of cloth against stone, the rub of shoes. [72]

This paragraph could be fixed with a semicolon, and a couple of verbs. Because what did the scrape of cloth against stone and the rub of shoes signify? Were they heard? Were they the precurser to, I don’t know, someone following them up the stairs?

This one bothered me from its pure laziness:

Theresa strode over to us in a swish of cloth. “Enough of this, animator. He can’t do it, so he pays the price. Either leave now, or join us at our … feast.”

“Are you having rare Who-roast-beast?” I asked.

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s from Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. You know the part, ‘And they’d Feast! Feast! Feast! Feast! They would feast on Who-pudding, and rare Who-roast-beast.'” [155]

I just … what’s the point of going through the whole spiel? I can see being a wise-ass and asking about rare Who Roast Beast, but going through the actual lines from the show? If you’re so damned scared of that vampire, Anita, why are you running your mouth off about random shit? It just bugged me. (Obviously.)

I’ve already started The Laughing Corpse, and the writing is kind of better. Not by much. But the book is longer than Guilty Pleasures, so we’ll see.

To get back to the vampires: these vampires are legitimately scary. Their powers aren’t completely divulged in this book, but: they can compel humans to do their bidding; they can create human servants by progressing through a series of bites and other rites that are kind of skimmed over; they can control their appearance to others using mind-control (having typed all these out, I see that these vampires are more mental and telepathic than ‘normal’ vampires); they enjoy doling out pain and using humans to satisfy their needs.

In short: they don’t fucking sparkle.

Grade for Guilty Pleasures: 2 stars

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