Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter - Laurell K Hamilton

Do you ever think about death? Your death? Do you ever wonder what you would do, what you would give, not to die?

There is a line from a Roy Harper song, Hope, which he sings with such anguish: I wanted to live forever… and my heart is ripped apart by it. No doubt readers can provide their own 'touchstones'.

This is my guilty secret: I hunger for these novels. And the first of the series is called, Guilty Pleasures (1993). It is the name of a night club in the sleazy side of town, where people go for the frisson of rubbing shoulders with the undead. Their presence can be felt as soon as they enter a room; the audience tenses, swoons, falls under the spell, And they will know if you have not succumbed, they will know.

Chocolate, for the fin-de-siecle generation. Very dark chocolate.

The world of Anita Blake is very much contemporary America. Well, seeing as we get the books over here at a several-year default, read that 'contemporary' generously. It is America of the nineteen nineties.

The only difference is that in this version the undead exist, and this includes lycanthropes and, unbelievably, Wererats, Wereleopards (in America?) as well as traditional Zombies and other 'monsters'. As such they have gained legal status. In turn they agree to abide by society's rules. If a vampire etc steps off that path, then…. Anita Blake is known as the Executioner; she has the legal right to take them out.

But I'm getting beyond myself here, Anita Blake is primarily an Animator. This is how she earns her living, she can raise the dead. It is mostly to solve problems over Wills, other legal technicalities. Lawyers have to be present to verify the raised dead still retain a degree of mental integrity. After that, it is just pure business. A raising usually involves a small killing: a chicken etc; the longer dead the greater the sacrifice, the scale goes up with goats, cows etc. The limit, of course, is a human death. This only the most unscrupulous will take on. And Anita is full of scruples.

Anita Blake is an enigma. To begin with even she does not know her capabilities; the vamps can feel something, but no one really knows what. She is, essentially, an ordinary hard-ass gal, brought up hard: Anita says to a woman having hysterics at the violence Anita has just been a part of, protecting her: How can you fall apart in front of your kids like this! Do you have kids? The woman replies, her stock duh response. No, she says, but when I was four and my mother had just been killed, my father went to pieces like you. It was up to me, a four year old, to explain to neighbours, deal with the cops…. Tough kid.

And she also has peculiar talents in a world a little skewed from ours by peculiar dimensions.

What I specially value about the books is how the author takes her girl through increasingly exponential developments of power. Laurell K Hamilton's ability to conceive of, and express with any amount of credibility her girl's inner experiences, is one reason for reading these novels.

There are by now sixteen in the series (2008). In the first books Anita Blake has the status of legal Executioner, and licensed Animator. She is attached to the Preternatural Squad of the St Louis Police Department. Because these are in essence detective novels.

Her status becomes increased to Federal Marshall, in which capacity she has the power to walk in on any police case in the land.

The author works with a small team of researchers. She has worked and spoken with law enforcers extensively, and the detail of petty inside squabbles, and resentments in the police force come through in full authentic detail. And this is another of her strengths as a writer, that she takes pains to authenticate all background details, and local colour. 'Obsidian Butterfly' is based in New Mexico, Santa Fe in particular, and you can bet anything that all the settings are based on actual places. The atmosphere of place, the burning heat, the smell, the flora and fauna… they are all there. This may be fantasy, but it is well and deeply grounded.

And Anita Blake sure loves her guns! She gloats over fire-power.  Anything metallic that goes bang is fondly handled here. Think of Arnie gloating in Terminator 2 as he uncovers the underground gun hoard; think of Neo and Trinity in the Matrix marching into the office block armed literally to the teeth. Bang, bang, bang! The variety, the types, all are name-checked and calibre-checked and checked for their lethal power.

Her job and reputation have become too dangerous for her to go about after dark without a mini armoury.  Also, this points up the sheer filmic quality of the books: we have jump-shots, wholly visual scenes, where the visual elements predominate; we have story-lines that can easily untwist to provide easy-access action-film sequences. And plenty of action sequences!

She has her Moriarty. It is ex-hitman turned monster hunter Ted Forrester. You never turn your back on Ted. Obsidian Butterfly is very much his book. The horrors pile up; the monster-victims just brought into the hospital… no one can stay in the ward with them for more than a few minutes. It becomes a matter of competition between Ted, Anita and the local police chief, who can take it longest. The victims have all been skinned alive; the flickers in pain-drenched eyes, the mumble of stripped tongues. The truth about these victims is even worse. Hold onto your seats.

In Obsidian Butterfly Ted at last finds relief, someone he can at last trust: Anita volunteers to cut off his head if he falls to the monsters. That is the one and only way he cannot be raised; or 'used', because that is the very worst that can happen to a person, to be put to use even after death, and especially if the soul is still present in the body. Because, of course, Anita and Ted are both marked by the monsters, there is a kudos-price on them.

I mentioned earlier Anita's increasing power; it is in the response of latent abilities to outward threats. In Book Two, The Laughing Corpse, under a spell from a powerful Voodoo priestess she animates a long dead corpse, using human sacrifice. The sacrifice gives her such power that she raises the whole grave yard; we feel through the writing the power rippling outwards from her, the corpses awakening, responding, rising.
Review by Michael Murray