Fiction: “The Laughing Corpse” by Laurell K. Hamilton

I’m not sure if I’m suffering from Book ADD or just overall ennui, but after finishing Guilty Pleasures, it seemed ‘good enough’ to continue with The Laughing Corpse.

One of the reasons I’ve read Guilty Pleasures so often is because I keep trying to get back into the series, but I’ll get about fifty or sixty pages or so into The Laughing Corpse and give up. [In fact, you’ll notice that I was attempting to reread this particular title back in 2009.] Why? A number of reasons. Boredom, for one. Mainly because this entry in the series is particularly gory, and gruesome in ways that it probably didn’t need to be. After completing it again today, I would like to add a third option: her writing skills don’t improve.

But let’s talk about the plot first. Anita Blake is still an animator for Animator’s Inc., and this book begins with her and her boss, Bert, meeting with a potential client. The client, Harold Gaynor, is an old man in a wheelchair that wants her to raise a 300-year-old corpse, and he agrees to pay her and her company one meeeeellion dollars [/Dr. Evil]. Except that in order to raise such an old zombie, Anita would have to sacrifice ‘the white goat’ – human sacrifice. And to quote one of the great philosophers of my generation, Homey don’t play that.

She continues on her merry way until there is a massacre of a family in town. She is called in for her expertise on the Spook Squad (a division of the St. Louis police department that investigates supernatural crimes), and … it’s brutal. How Ms. Hamilton was able to give that level of description without horking all over the place is beyond me. Turns out the culprit is a flesh-eating zombie, and when I say ‘flesh-eating,’ I mean ‘there’s not too much body left to discern that it was human before-eating.’ It’s kind of gross.

Anita proposes that the only animator strong enough to raise such a zombie would be Dominga Salvador, a voodoo priestess so scary that even Anita is afraid of her (but more on that tangent later). Dominga wants Anita to join her in her zombie making factory: Dominga has figured out how to raise zombies and put their souls back in the bodies so the corpses won’t decay. Anita (rightly) sees it as a desecration and refuses to have anything to do with it. She offends Dominga Salvador with her bravado and refusal to bow to threats, and now she has the threat of a very pissed off voodoo priestess coming after her, in the guise of two zombies attacking her in her home.

As the book continues, she ends up with another problem: Jean-Claude, the vampire from Guilty Pleasures, wants her to capitulate and become his human servant (she already bears two of the marks, whatever that means – he bit her or imprinted on her in the first book to bring her under his power, but it’s never very clearly defined). Of course, she wants nothing to do with him and refuses, but that shakes his new power in front of the rest of the vampires, and also, he lurves her.

In the end, everything comes together (as it always tends to do). Anita is able to figure out why the zombie killed the families without provocation, she is able to dispatch both Dominga Salvador and Harold Gaynor, and she’s even able to continue to keep Jean-Claude at a distance. What I experienced in this novel was a continuation from Guilty Pleasures around Anita not wanting to do something, really not wanting to do something, but then being forced to do it anyway — and she knew she was going to be forced! If you know you’re going to be forced to do something, why do you continue to bitch about it?

Speaking of continuing to bitch: here’s something that will continue as I continue through the Anita Blake series. {“But Alaina! Why are you continuing to read this tripe if you are complaining about it so much?” [turns to a non-existant audience, a la Craig Ferguson] “Irony is not my strong suit!”} Remember how I said that Anita does things she doesn’t want to do? And she bitches about it constantly? I almost think it’s a direct result of being paid by the word. Because there is no reason for some of this repetition.

Here’s a classic scene. I apologize for the length of the quote, but I feel it’s necessary to make my point:

“You slew the white goat for me, more than once.”

I turned towards Manny. It was like that moment in a movie where the main character has a revelation about someone. There should be music and camera angles when you learn one of your best friends participated in human sacrifice. More than once she had said. More than once.

“Manny?” My voice was a hoarse whisper. This, for me, was worse than the zombies. The hell with strangers. This was Manny, and it couldn’t be true.

“Manny?” I said it again. He wouldn’t look at me. Bad sign.

“You didn’t know, chica? Didn’t your Manny tell you of his past?”

[…]

“Shut up!” I screamed … She stopped, her face thinning with anger. Enzo took two steps into the altar area. “Don’t.” I wasn’t even sure who I was saying it to. “I need to hear from him, not from you.”

The anger was still in her face. Enzo loomed like an avalanche about to be unleashed. Dominga gave one sharp nod. “Ask him then, chica.”

“Manny, is she telling the truth? Did you perform human sacrifices?” My voice sounded so normal. It shouldn’t have. My stomach was so tight, it hurt. I wasn’t afraid anymore, or at least not of Dominga. The truth; I was afraid of the truth.

He looked up. His hair fell across his face framing his eyes. A lot of pain in those eyes. Almost flinching.

“It’s the truth, isn’t it?” My skin felt cold. “Answer me, dammit.” My voice still sounded ordinary, calm.

“Yes,” he said.

“Yes, you committed human sacrifice?”

He glared at me now, anger helping him meet my eyes. “Yes, yes!”

It was my turn to look away. “God, Manny, how could you?” [58-59]

Having typed this all out, all I can see in my head is an atrocious “Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter” sketch on SNL where Anita Blake is played by Kristen Wiig, and all she does is keep asking Manny if he committed human sacrifice, in increasingly annoying voices, and not believing it even when he proves it in front of her by slitting Andy Samberg’s throat.

I do like how Anita creates her world. For instance:

“I hope you appreciate how many dragons I had to slay to save that seat for you,” [Irving] said. […]

“Dragons are easy, try vampires sometimes,” I said.

His eyes widened. Before his mouth could form the question, I said, “I’m kidding, Irving.” Sheesh, some people just don’t have a sense of humor. “Besides, dragons were never native to North America,” I said. [97]

Dragons! In North America!

Here we see her like me: making rules for everyday things:

Rule number three hundred sixty-nine when dealing with unfamiliar magic: when in doubt, leave it alone.

I left it alone. [52]

And right on cue, here’s my problem with this: Why would “leaving something alone when in doubt” NOT be RULE NUMBER ONE?

She also gives advice to the readers regarding how to deal with supernatural beasties, but I seem to feel that she may not be the expert that she claims to be…

Important safety tip with most of the spiritual world: if you ignore it, it has less power. This does not work with demons or other demi-beings. Other exceptions to the rule are vampires, zombies, ghouls, lycanthropes, witches … Oh, hell, ignoring only works for ghosts. But it does work. [120]

Is it me, or does it sound like Ms. Hamilton had a good solid thought, but then her own logic and worldview fucked it up? Or, rather, it’s like when I try to name my favorite movie. “Die Hard. And Back to the Future. But my favorite Bond movie is Goldfinger. And Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is never Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, by the way. And also Empire Records. Wait, only one favorite movie?”

Her problems with grammar continue, as well.

The night sky was a curving bowl of liquid black. Stars like pinprick diamonds gave a cold, hard light. The moon was a glowing patchwork of greys and goldish-silver. The city makes you forget how dark the night, how bright the moon, how very many stars. [114]

This one needs an adverb in the last sentence, or something. No — it needs the main part of a helping verb.

There are more instances of this, but this was apparently the only one I dogeared. Ms. Hamilton definitely has a problem with question marks:

I really didn’t know what you did to repair bullet holes? [147]

In context, she’s not disbeliving of herself – she’s actually stating that she really doesn’t know what one does to repair bullet holes. Ms. Hamilton just thinks a question mark belongs there.

And this one wins the Stephenie Meyer Dust Moat Award. I refuse to dignify it with a response; I’m just going to let this sit here in the ether:

I use to come to the morgue fairly regularly. [222]

Finally, the whole zombie thing. In this universe, the only way to create a zombie is to raise another from the grave:

The paramedics warned me to get a tetanus booster. Zombies don’t make more zombies by biting, but the dead have nasty mouths. [140]

So, good to know that there won’t be a mad zombie apocalypse brewin’ in this iteration of St. Louis. But, it brings up the thought that was this year’s topic of supernatural discussion at New Year’s: Resolved: The threat of a zombie apocalypse would create an uneasy alliance between humans and vampires. And I’m no longer talking about Anita Blake’s universe: I’m talking about ours. I believe that to be true. In the event that zombies rise up and begin chasing after us, looking for brains, I have to believe that an uneasy alliance will be formed between humans and vampires. Humans will have to rely on vampires for their preternatural strength, and vampires will rely on us for food. Once the zombie threat is eliminated, humans and vampires will most likely go their separate ways (unless romantic relationships have formed, in which case, sign me up for the Mystic Falls chapter). There’s a lot more I could get into, but I’m crossing my fingers that eventually, a zombie uprising will occur in these books so I can dig into it at that point.

The best piece of advice I can give a reader of this blog who might be looking at this series is: it is not for the faint of heart nor for the weak of stomach. Some of these murder scenes are particularly gruesome, and I had to fast-read a few paragraphs to move along. I can’t recall what any of the other books are like, but this title always stood out as one of the goriest. So: caveat lector.

Grade for The Laughing Corpse: 1 star

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