by Laurell K. Hamilton
Berkley, 2004, ISBN 0-425-19824-3
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
This is the twelfth book in Hamilton's "Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter" series, which is a bad place to start any series. For regular readers, the background has been pretty thoroughly filled in and can be taken for granted, the regular characters all have tons of shared history providing context for their current interactions--and on top of all that, most series, if they reach book twelve, have started to run down several books back.
Nevertheless, despite the fact that I was plunging in cold, with no prior background other than the fact that there was an "Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter" series, I only occasionally and briefly found myself feeling a bit lost. Hamilton does a pretty good job of salting in enough background and character history that the new reader has a sense, however illusory, of knowing what's going on.
For those as new to the series as I was: Vampires, werebeasts (wolves, leopards, and rats, most prominently in this book), zombies, and other unnatural and frequently nasty things really exist. The vampires and werebeasts, at least, have some legal rights, but distinctly limited ones. Anita Blake has the ability to sense and to some degree control the restless dead, which is the basis of both of her lines of work. By day (loosely speaking) she's a professional resurrectionist, raising the quite restful dead as zombies for a few hours so that they can answer such crucial questions as "what did this clause in your will really mean?" By night (usually), she's a federal marshal, the go-to person when a vampire's gone bad and you need him staked, quickly and permanently. In this capacity, she gets consulted by the local police in what are or might be preternatural crimes, a lot.
All of that might be relatively straightforward, if she weren't also one of the lovers of Jean-Claude, Master of the local vampires, and Nimir-Ra of the local wereleopard clan and lover of Micah Callahan, their Nimir-Raj. (No, she's not a wereleopard herself.) But, really, her love life is more complicated than that, and gets more so as the story progresses.
The story opens with a murder, a vampire-gang murder of a stripper at a local strip club, which looks like it might be the work of a serial killer. It's not long before there's another stripper killed, the same way, and the bite marks match those from the first killing. Inquiries also turn up the fact tha t there have been similar killings in other cities, and it looks like the killers are stepping up the pace. Anita is sure, for numerous sensible reasons, that it's not the work of Jean-Claude or any of the local vampires, but, of course, she might not be totally objective.
Since one of Anita's lovers is a stripper, and another (Jean-Claude) owns the club he works in, she's personally involved in another way, too. And if Jean-Claude's not involved, that's not really good news, either, because it means there's another master vampire in town, powerful enough to hide himself from both Jean-Claude and Anita.
While Anita and the local police, and eventually the Mobile Reserve, are trying to solve the murders before more people are killed, she's also juggling her job as a resurrectionist, where one client wants a resurrection that would be a really bad idea (zombies of murder victims do not play by the rules), and trying to manage her personal relationships along with her growing magical powers and the growing dem ands of those powers. Those last three things are all, of course, deeply entangled with each other in the most frustrating and inconvenient ways. It all builds towards a satisfyingly exciting conclusion.
I do have several observations, the first of which is not a complaint, but something you should be aware of if you're picking up an Anita Blake book for the first time: There's lots and lots of mildly kinky sex. It's not, mostly, gratuitous, in that it does advance both plot and characterization significantly. On the other hand, the sex scene that took up several chapters, important as it was for plot and characterization, clearly could have been shorter if that had been its primary function. So, if you don't like reading mildly kinky sex scenes, don't complain that I didn't warn you. In this book, if you skip them, you will miss important stuff that matters later.
This next one is a complaint. Early on, someone does a tarot reading for Anita, and one of the things that comes out of that reading is a prediction that she will receive help from someone from her past. At the end of the book, this hasn't happened--and we're reminded of the reading, and the fact that it hasn't happened. This isn't something I missed due to prior unfamiliarity with the series. This is a 658-page book in which major threads are left hanging, the story not really finished. That's annoying. The pace moves quickly, those 658 pages don't ever drag, and there is a conclusion--but this is putting the gun on the mantle in the first scene, and saying, in the last scene, "we'll get to that in the next play."
Thirdly--and this is a big complaint, but not directed at Ms. Hamilton. This one is directed at Berkley. Whoever decided that proofreaders were an unnecessary extra expense ought to be thoroughly embarrassed by the result in this book. "Liability" is spelled "libility." "Your" and "you're" are repeatedly confused, in both directions. Apostrophes are stuck, apparently randomly, in plurals. An exhaustive list would be exhausting for everyone, so I'll stop now. But Hamilton's a good writer, and she deserves better than this from her publisher.
If you're an Anita Blake fan, you'll surely want to grab this one. If you aren't, but you enjoy vampire fiction at all, this isn't the best one to start with, but you may want to go find the earlier ones.