Well, after reading Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall“, I wanted to read something shorter and more fast-paced. So, I thought that I’d check out Laurell K. Hamilton’s 1993 novel “Guilty Pleasures”. After all, it’s been a while since I last read a vampire thriller novel (I think that the last ones I read were Jocelynn Drake’s amazing “Dark Days” series, which I reviewed here, here, here, here, here, here and here ).
Surprisingly though, “Guilty Pleasures” isn’t actually the first Laurell K. Hamilton novel I’ve read – since I reviewed a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” novel by Hamilton back in 2013.
Anyway, I saw several of Hamilton’s “Anita Blake” novels in a charity shop in Petersfield last April but, for cost reasons, only ended up buying three of them. I’m not sure how many of them I’ll end up reviewing, since I’ve got a lot of other books on my “to read” pile, but I was eager to see what this series was actually like – since I’d always see these novels on the horror shelves of bookshops when I was younger.
So, let’s take a look at “Guilty Pleasures”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The story is set in St.Loius, Missouri. Anita Blake, a professional necromancer (or “animator”) and part-time executioner of criminal vampires, is sitting in her office when a friendly vampire called Willie walks in. He’s got a case for her. Someone has been killing vampires (without a lawful reason) and he’s been told to ask her to investigate the killings. Naturally, Anita doesn’t take the job.
But, later, Anita gets a phone call from someone called Monica who is helping out with Anita’s friend Catherine’s wedding. Monica asks Anita if she can be the designated driver for the bachelorette party. Reluctantly, Anita agrees. And, a few days later, she finds herself at a vampire-run nightclub called Guilty Pleasures.
During the festivities, Anita is paged by the police and makes a brief visit to a graveyard. Another vampire has been murdered. When Anita returns to the nightclub, it soon becomes obvious that she had been led there on purpose. Several vampires at the club tell Anita that the city’s head vampire wants her to investigate the killings, or Catherine will be in danger…
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that although the first third or so of it is quite literally “so bad that it’s good”, the novel becomes more thrilling and creepy later on. The earlier parts of this novel are highly entertaining in a hilariously cheesy way (eg: were-rats, gruesome coffins, male strippers etc..) and they certainly put a grin on my face. However, as the story progressed, I found myself more gripped and, to my surprise, at least mildly creeped out.
I should probably start by talking about the novel’s horror elements. Whilst the earlier parts of the novel include some hilariously silly creature horror, some suspenseful/threatening horror and some fairly standard gory horror, this is all there to lull you into a false sense of security.
As the story progresses, it gradually starts to introduce other types of horror too – these include criminal horror, paranormal horror, age-related horror, character-based horror, religious horror, psychological horror and sadistic/cruel horror. Seriously, this is a creepier novel than you might initially expect it to be. So, the story’s horror elements work really well 🙂
The novel’s thriller elements are also fairly good too. Whilst this story certainly contains it’s fair share of fights, the thriller elements of this story are often achieved through atmosphere, story and suspense in addition to dramatic action scenes. Like a good “modern” film noir, this is one of those suspenseful stories that is constantly infused with both the threat of and effects of violence. In addition to this, the detective-based plot of the story helps to keep things moving at a decent pace too. So, this is a reasonably gripping and fast-paced novel that you’ll probably want to read in a couple of 2-3 hour sessions.
The novel’s paranormal/fantasy elements are handled in a fairly interesting way too, with the novel set in a world where vampires actually have some political rights. Although this topic, and the moral ambiguity of Anita’s job, is explored in a few scenes – it seems to be slightly more of a background detail. The rest of the story’s paranormal/fantasy elements (eg: re-animating the dead etc..) are handled reasonably well too, with enough explained to make the events of the story seem logical and enough kept mysterious to keep the story creepy.
As for the novel’s characters, they’re reasonably well-written. Whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-deep characterisation, there’s still enough characterisation here to make you care about what happens to the characters. However, I had mixed feelings about the narrator/main character.
On the plus side, Anita is the kind of cynical, badass character you would expect to see in a story like this. She makes witty observations, has a few amusing quirks (such as a collection of stuffed penguins) and is both tough and intelligent too. And, on the whole, is a reasonably well-written character.
However, one part of this novel points out that crosses also require religious faith to be effective weapons against vampires. So, Anita is religious. Half of the fun of urban fantasy-style vampire fiction is vicariously experiencing the debauched, gothic, hedonistic and countercultural world of the vampire characters. Typically, this is achieved through the use of a vampire protagonist/narrator. So, telling the story from the perspective of a non-vampire protagonist who also lives a relatively puritanical life and tuts disapprovingly at various things etc… kind of ruins the fun a bit.
Still, some of this stuff is also satirised via the inclusion of a group of “mainstream” vampires (the “Church Of Eternal Life”) who also disapprove of the more debauched elements of vampirism – only for Anita to disapprove of them because, due to her religious beliefs, she’s creeped out by the fact that vampires have a non-Christian church.
In terms of the writing , Hamilton’s first-person narration is fairly well-written. In other words, this is a very readable thriller-style novel, with hints of old-school hardboiled/noir detective fiction too 🙂 Likewise, the first-person narration really helps to show the reader Anita’s personality and character too. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, there are quite a few witty observations etc..
As for length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. It never really gets particularly slow-paced or boring and, at 327 pages in length, the story never really gets bloated either. In other words, the pacing and length of this story are reasonably good.
As for how this twenty-six year old novel has aged, it has aged surprisingly well. Although there are a few obviously 1990s elements (eg: pagers, the phrase “peachy keen”, some of the fashions etc..), I often forgot that I was reading a novel from the 1990s whilst I was reading it. If you showed me a copy of this story without a publication date, I’d have probably guessed that it was from 2004-9, rather than 1993. So, yes, this novel is often somewhat ahead of it’s time.
All in all, this is an entertaining, creepy and gripping vampire thriller novel. Yes, as urban fantasy vampire stories go, I still prefer Jocelynn Drake’s “Dark Days” novels to this one. But, this novel is entertaining. It contains a good mixture of humourous/cheesy horror and genuinely creepy horror, the pacing is good and the story is certainly compelling. However, the choice of a non-vampire protagonist and the slightly judgmental tone of the story can drain some of the fun out of it.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a four.