Review: “The Laughing Corpse” By Laurell K. Hamilton (Novel)

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.

This is the 2009 Headline (UK) paperback edition of “The Laughing Corpse” that I read.

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.

Review: “Guilty Pleasures” By Laurell K. Hamilton (Novel)

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.

This is the 2009 Headline (UK) paperback edition of “Guilty Pleasures” that I read.

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.

Review: “Nightshade (Star Trek: The Next Generation)” By Laurell K. Hamilton

Although I haven’t read any of Hamilton’s “Anita Blake” books, I was slightly surprised to see that Laurell K. Hamilton had written a “Star Trek” novel, since I thought that she was more of a horror/fantasy writer than a sci-fi writer.

Anyway, as someone who likes both sci-fi and horror fiction, I was intrigued enough to read “Nightshade” and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

“Nightshade” starts with Captain Picard, Commander Worf and Counsellor Troi beaming down to a dystopic planet called Oriana which has been almost destroyed by centuries of civil war. Since the two warring factions wish to negotiate a peace, they have called for the assistance of the Federation to mediate the negotiations. However, shortly after Picard, Worf and Troi arrive on the planet, the Enterprise is called away to answer a distress call from a rather unusual spaceship.

The peace talks begin well and it seems likely that peace is within sight. But, when one of the leaders dies suddenly and mysteriously during a banquet, Picard is accused of poisoning him. Not only do Worf and Troi have to continue the peace negotiations, they also only have three days to prove Picard’s innocence or he will be executed….

Although “Nightshade” begins relatively slowly, one of the things I really love about it is the sheer atmosphere of this story. Hamilton spends quite a while showing you just how much of a horrific, paranoid and dystopic place Oriana is and this really adds a lot to the story and makes you feel like you are actually on Oriana too. Seriously, I cannot emphasise how much of an atmospheric story “Nightshade” is.

Plus, although “Nightshade” is still very much a sci-fi novel, there are definitely more horror elements in this story than there are in the average “Star Trek” novel and the scene where Troi first discovers the medical facilities on Oriana is probably one of the creepiest scenes I’ve ever read in a “Star Trek” book. Seriously, I cannot praise Titan Books enough for choosing to publish a “Star Trek” novel by a horror writer, since “Nighshade” is refreshingly different to many of the other (also very good) “Star Trek” books I’ve read.

Another thing I really love about “Nightshade” is the sheer level of characterisation in it. All of the supporting characters seem like very realistic and believeable people and, although the main characters are obviously similar to how they are portrayed in the TV show, you really get a deep insight into both the similarities and differences between Worf and Troi. Plus, the idea of Worf being a peace ambassador is a really innovative one and you will get a very clear sense of how difficult he finds this job to be.

Not to mention that Worf and Troi obviously aren’t really trained to be detectives either, so there is a real sense of suspense and tension about whether or not they’ll be able to find enough evidence to clear Picard’s name. Plus, apparently the Klingons have their own version of Sherlock Holmes called “Betan-Ka”, who Worf refers to a few times during the investigation. Although this is an extremely minor plot detail, I really liked it.

The only slight criticisms I have to make of “Nightshade” are to do with the pacing of the later parts of story and the sub-plot involving the Enterprise. Although the sub-plot (where LaForge and Doctor Crusher have to repair a damaged spaceship) is fairly interesting and it has some rather innovative imagery (which reminded me slightly of “Farscape”), it isn’t really developed quite enough and it almost feels like it has been tacked onto the main story.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very interesting sub-plot, but the story would have worked equally well without it. Basically, it’s just a plot device to ensure that Troi, Picard and Worf are completely alone when they visit Oriana. As long as you’re aware of this fact, then you’ll probably enjoy the sub-plot.

The other criticism I have of “Nightshade” is to do with the pacing of the story. In short, it ends slightly too quickly. When I was about three-quarters of my way through this novel, I had the same feeling that I normally get when I realise that a story will probably end on a cliffhanger. In other words, it seemed like there would be no way for the plot to be resolved in the number of pages which were left. Hamilton still manages to resolve both the main plot and the sub-plot fairly well, although I feel that this novel really should have been slightly longer.

Still, don’t let these two minor criticisms put you off reading what is an absolutely excellent and atmospheric “Star Trek” novel. “Nightshade” works extremely well as both a detective novel and as a creepy dystopic sci-fi novel too. It’s fairly different to any other “Star Trek” book that I’ve read and it’s also the most atmospheric “Star Trek” novel I’ve read too. Seriously, it’s well worth reading if you’re a fan of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.

If I had to give “Nightshade” a rating out of five, then it would definitely get a four.