Guilty Pleasures & The Laughing Corpse
Laurell K Hamilton
I’m a virulent defender of genre fiction and the trash aesthetic. I’ve literally risked life and limb to advocate the cause of all things pulp against the literary establishment. Only last week I stood in a classroom full of A-Level English teachers and proclaimed Alan More the greatest living British writer. Alan Who? They said, sharpening their knives.
But even I baulked when I originally encountered the Anita Blake series. As a hardened Buffy fan my first and only assumption was ‘Whedon Clone’. Vampire Slayer / Vampire Hunter. Bare faced theft as far as I was concerned and for many years that’s where the story ended.
Until I noticed the dates. Joss Whedon’s Buffy series hit television screens in 1997. The first Anita Blake tome was published in 1994. Hmmm. Interesting. Theft perhaps, but in which direction? There was still the ill conceived and ill fated Buffy movie (1992) to consider but the chances of anyone being inspired by that seemed so remote as to be non-existant.
Dates aside, it doesn’t take more than the first three chapters of Guilty Pleasures, the first in the Anita Blake series, to realise that Buffy the Vampire Slayer this is not. Other than the occaisional gruesome staking, Buffy is a teen soap opera where the relationships of the ‘scooby gang’ take centre stage before any supernatural concern. Anita Blake by contrast is a female version of the Marlowesque gumshoe – a tough loner and happy that way. All the scary bits in Buffy are handled with a tongue in cheek knowingness. When you stake a vamp in Buffy, they turn into a nice neat cloud of dust. In the world of Anita Blake they spurt blood all over the living room curtains and explode into flames taking the soft furnishings with them. And then of course there’s the sex. In Buffy world when the characters very occasionally stray over into having a bit of hanky panky they are invariably rewarded with a spell in hell or being turned evil. In contrast the Anita Blake series is famed for its full on depiction of a number of quite kinky sexual exploits, particularly in the later volumes.
At their core both Guilty Pleasures and The Laughing Corpse are hard boiled detective thrillers with a supernatural twist written for a 21st Century, predominantly female readership who want their heroines every bit as kick ass as their heroes. When Anita Blake puts on a dress her first thought isn’t whether her bum looks big in it, but whether the two hand guns and combat knife she has holstered under each arm are properly concelaed. When Anita gets into a fight with a vamp she REALLY gets into a fight. Bones are broken. Eyes get gouged. Soft fleshy things get stamped upon. Both Guilty Pleasures and The Laughing Corpse tell tight, tense stories that unfold over just two days and two nights and Anita collects assorted wounds throughout each book.
The stories are a tough, exciting and compulsive read but they aren’t without their weaknesses. They are clearly written quickly and that means the occasional shortcut here and there. A particularly grating device in the first book is the way Hamilton introduces EVERY SINGLE CHARCATER by describing the way they laugh. If laughter was that accurate a judge of character in the real world it would be admissible as evidence in court. A few of the chapters fall dead as they are used to get the story back on its tracks but these are kept mercifully short. Strangely for such compelling reads, the antagonists in both books fall a little flat and don’t manage to develop much into the second dimension let alone the third. But these weaknesses somehow compliment the unapologetically popcorn manifesto that the series champions.
Planet Literary seems to have determined a set of strictly enforced guidelines for contemporary writing. Ideally, all books should be a loosely disguised autobiographical account of a formative experience in their authors life. Actual fiction is frowned upon, unless set in an ’exotic’ locale, preferably a social or cultural ghetto. Under no circumstances should literature have any elements of the fantastic unless intended for children or written with an ironic wink. Above all it must be turgid enough to stop the reader getting beyond Chapter 3 but leave them convinced they have failed to comprehend the work of a genius.
Anita Blake sticks two fingers up at Planet Literary, gives them a severe beating and then blows them away with her .357 hand cannon. Everything that ‘literature’ should be, Anita Blake is not. Which is probably why I enjoyed Guilty Pleasures and The Laughing Corpse so much. If you’ve accidently swallowed one to many Booker prize winners you may find that Anita Blake is exactly the antidote you need.