Laurell K. Hamilton,
Guilty Pleasures
(Ace, 1993)

Guilty Pleasures is the first of Laurell K. Hamilton's "Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter" series. It is by far the shortest and weakest of the books, but necessary to set up the world of Anita Blake.

Anita Blake lives in an alternative contemporary St. Louis, one where vampires, werewolves, zombies and all manner of the supernatural are commonplace. Anita, a petite, 25-year-old woman, makes her living as a zombie raiser and vampire slayer. It is hinted that she is much more powerful than even she knows.

The book follows Anita through close encounters with vampires as she tracks a serial killer that is targeting vampires. Vampirism has only recently been made legal in the United States, and Anita struggles to adjust to this new order. She is drawn into vampire politics, shoot-outs, police investigations and all manner of deadly situations. Each day for Anita brings her to another deadly and almost inescapable situation, until the final confrontation. Although there are some graphic scenes, the story is more adventure than straight horror.

This book also introduces one of the series' most important characters: Jean-Claude, a 200-year-old French vampire bent on seducing Anita. She resists him, something no "ordinary" human can usually do. Hamilton's vampires are in the Anne Rice tradition: seductive, irresistible and sometimes brutal.

Guilty Pleasures is often plagued with awkward phrasing, inconsistencies (which have become legendary among Hamilton fans), long descriptions of Anita's outfits and occasionally ridiculous dialogue. The writing is not stellar, especially in this book, which was obviously edited. Despite these impediments, the characters are compelling and well drawn, the story engrossing and the world rich in detail. It is interesting to note that, despite prose which causes readers to wince at times, the book is still nearly impossible to put down. The series is highly addictive, as Hamilton's prose improves in later books, and her characters remain intriguing.

Anita's struggles with morality and identity against a backdrop of brutality are compelling. It is her character -- flawed, stubborn, sarcastic, impulsive -- which makes the books well worth reading.

[ by Heather Gregg ]

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