Well, although I had mixed feelings about Laurell K. Hamilton’s 1993 novel “Guilty Pleasures“, I thought that I’d check out the next one in the series – “The Laughing Corpse” (1994).
This is mostly because not only did I realise that it was a zombie novel (and I haven’t read one of these in a while), but also because I bought three of Hamilton’s “Anita Blake” novels in a charity shop last year and I’ve been meaning to read more of them.
Although this is the second novel in a series, it is pretty much a stand-alone novel. Yes, there are some background details and sub-plots that will make very slightly more sense if you’ve read “Guilty Pleasures”, but the main story is a stand-alone story and the background details are explained via recaps.
So, let’s take a look at “The Laughing Corpse”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
Set in St.Louis, Missouri – the story follows professional necromancer, police consultant and part-time vampire hunter Anita Blake. Anita and her boss, Bert, have been summoned to the house of a multi-millionaire called Harold Gaynor. Gaynor is willing to pay Anita a million dollars if she raises a two-hunrded and eighty-three year old corpse from the dead.
However, the older a body is the larger the sacrifice needed to raise it becomes. For a body that old, only a human sacrifice will be sufficient. Needless to say, Anita refuses the job. But, although she and Bert walk out of the house in one piece, it’s clear that Gaynor will not take no for an answer.
Not only that, Anita gets a call from the police a while later. They need her help with an especially grisly murder case. It doesn’t take Anita long to work out that the crime has been carried out by something undead. Not only that, it also seems to be part of a series of murders….
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s certainly an improvement on the previous novel in the series 🙂 Not only is it a reasonably gripping detective/ action thriller novel, but it’s also a pretty decent horror novel too. It’s also a little bit more focused and confidently written than the previous novel too.
I should probably start by talking about the horror elements of the story. Not only does this novel contain some reasonably creepy paranormal horror, suspenseful horror, implied horror, moral horror, criminal horror, character-based horror and body horror, but it also includes a decent amount of gory horror too.
Whilst this isn’t quite a splatterpunk novel, it certainly comes close to one during a few gruesome moments. Plus, although most of these grisly moments are played fairly seriously, there is also some absolutely hilarious dark comedy (eg: detectives throwing body parts around a crime scene etc..) during one of them which really helps to lighten the mood a bit.
The novel also has a rather inventive take on the zombie genre too. Whilst the zombies in this story are of the traditional Voodoo variety, they can also act a bit like more traditional horror movie zombies when ordered to do so (or if angered). Likewise, the zombies in this story also run the gamut from intelligently articulate former humans to shambling undead horrors, which helps to keep things unpredictable.
This variety also allows the story to use multiple types of zombie horror too. In addition to allowing for lots of moral horror (eg: evil experiments involving zombies, people using zombies as slave labour etc..), this also allows the story to include some wonderfully grotesque and suspenseful “horror movie”-like scenes involving the undead too.
In terms of the story’s detective/thriller elements, they’re really good too. In a lot of ways, this story has more of a “modern film noir” kind of atmosphere to it with Anita finding herself in the middle of a dangerous web of criminal intrigue where multiple groups of criminals are out to get her.
Not only does this keep the story thrillingly suspenseful and fast-paced, but it also allows for a slightly more “noir” style plot too. Plus, although this story is slightly more of a thriller novel than a traditional detective story, the murder mystery at the heart of the story is still intrguingly mysterious.
The writing in this novel is reasonably good too. Like with “Guilty Pleasures”, the novel is narrated by Anita and – as you would expect in a noir-influenced detective thriller novel – the story is told in a reasonably fast-paced, informal and “matter of fact” kind of way. In addition to this, the story is also peppered with cynical and sarcastic comments and observations from Anita too. Although most of these are fairly amusing and/or dramatic, at least a couple of them come across as annoyingly self-righteous, mean-spirited and/or judgemental.
In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably good. Whilst you shouldn’t expect ultra-complex characterisation, the characters are certainly a reasonably interesting bunch of people. Not only are the villains all suitably creepy, evil and generally disturbing – but there are also a few interesting background characters too.
Likewise, although Anita is pretty much the same character she was in “Guilty Pleasures”, she gets a bit of character development too. Not only does her obsession with carrying guns everywhere make a bit more sense in the context of this story, but there’s also a little bit of focus on how she tries to reconcile her supernatural powers with her religious beliefs (and, a couple of moments aside, she also comes across as a little bit less self-righteous/preachy in this story too). Plus, the story also devotes a little bit of time to Anita’s complicated relationship with Jean-Claude (from the previous novel) too.
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At about 340 pages in length, this novel never really feels too long and, as you would expect from a thriller novel, the story travels along at a reasonably fast pace too 🙂
As for how this twenty-five year old novel has aged, it’s aged reasonably well. Yes, a few moments of this story seem a bit dated and/or “politically incorrect” by modern standards – but, for the most part, this is the kind of story that could very easily be set in the present day. Plus, the story’s thriller elements still remain suitably gripping and the story’s horror elements still remain suitably macabre and disturbing too.
All in all, this story is a definite improvement on “Guilty Pleasures” 🙂 Not only are the horror elements a bit more gruesome and creepy, but the story’s detective/thriller elements feel a bit more focused, compelling and suspenseful too. Plus, it’s a zombie novel too 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably get four and a half.