by Laurell K. Hamilton
Pub. Date: April 2003
Laurell Hamilton's dark detective Anita Blake inhabits a world with a dark twist. While her environment in St. Louis appears in many aspects to be the same harsh city that many of us live in, it is in fact a shadow of our own realm. While Blake's tools are often the same bullets and blunt steel used by the private eyes in the standard pulp fiction territory of American mysteries, more often than not she also hammers her point home with a stake.
Anita Blake is a monster killer. The things that go bump in the night in her city are true. Vampires, zombies and werewolves are not the child-frightening stuff of fairly tales but real world individuals who live, love and make their way through their desperate existence just like the rest of us. In her work for the aptly named Animators, Inc., Blake commonly raises the dead and consults on the side for the St. Louis police organization's Preternatural Investigation Team.
A stretch? Sure, but before we dismiss Hamilton's books, though, as just another series among the ridiculous horror fiction that sprouted with the popularity of Stephen King, it's important to note that hers is a real world. The great and unique condition that sets Blake's world apart is that it is a real world. Like The Matrix, which revolutionized concepts of reality in science fiction, there are rules here. The physics of raising the dead to life, chasing rogue beasts through the steamy streets of St. Louis, or managing relationships with creatures that are vastly beyond Homo Sapiens are handled with the same hard flint as Mickey Spillane or Elmore Leonard.
The drawback for new readers (but a delight to Hamilton's legion of adoring fans) is that Hamilton by no means holds the reader's hands by introducing all the players. Just as she treats Anita Blake as a real person, her heroine's life moves forward with the same desperate speed as all of earth's creatures: one minute, one breath and one conflict at a time. That being the case, walking into the 11th novel in the series, the newly released and best-selling "Cerulean Sins," can be a daunting task.
However, for the brave, the open-minded and the fans of rich prose, stepping into Hamilton's series can be a delight. In addition to her steel-edged protagonist, there are others to meet. Blake's companions include Jean-Claude, the city's Master Vampire, and Richard, a shape-shifting werewolf evolved from Lon Cheney features. While these might sound like enemies to be knocked off, in Hamilton's creation, they are in fact the objects of Blake's desperate desire. The author handles the steamier side of her detective's love life with an evocative sensuality that is often missing in any genre or handled with doubtful details by the romance writers - see the cover illustration of nearly any romance novel if you don't believe it.
In "Cerulean Sins," it's Blake's talent for raising the dead that leads her into more dead beings than she had imagined. When a contract killer deceives Anita into raising an ancestor, she quickly becomes trapped on the trail of a vicious serial killer. To add fire to her predicament, she is also trying to save one of her vampire companions by negotiating the tangled world of the underground politics that govern her world's vampires. Add to the mix Blake's ongoing transformation brought on by the deep wounds incurred in previous books and "Cerulean Sins" is a deep and satisfying journey into the heart of darkness.
When Anita Blake is shoved into corners by ageless monsters, she fights back with bullets. The incredibly creative niche that Hamilton has created elevates itself beyond the simplistic notions of her contemporaries and makes the fey monsters of Anne Rice's books look like pushovers. It's not a book for the timid but for fans of horror-tinged fiction and hard-boiled crime alike, these books are a step into a much larger and more diverse world. Just don't look back; something might be gaining on you.