Kiss the Dead
By Laurell K. Hamilton. (Penguin, 2012)
“Bullshit,” I said, “the newly risen can be just as animalistic as any first-time shapeshifter.”
That’s a quintessential Laurell K. Hamilton sentence. Her tough-broad heroine Anita Blake is continually confounded not just by the sexism and mockery she endures from her colleagues, but by the sheer mass of rules and rituals she must keep up on if she wants to survive as a federal investigator of spiritual phenomena.
She’s a vampire hunter, as you doubtless know—Kiss the Dead is the 21st book in the bestselling series, and there’ve also been audiobooks and comic books as well.
She’s way overdue for TV or movie treatments, but it’d be hard to beat the books for their tight structure, momentum and savagery. They’re not formulaic, but they are reassuringly familiar. You know you’re going to get a chaotic and messy catastrophe caused by a marauding supernatural beast, followed by the careful, rules-laden unraveling of a motive. Anita will have to prove herself to some pigheaded officer who must accompany her on the mission. She’ll also have wild, fantastical sex with several of her many lovers, boyfriends and acquaintances.
Most of these bedmates have supernatural gifts, and some of Anita’s strength comes from having been infected with a force called the ardeur. The ardeur comes with its own set of rules, which are kind of hard to manage since it is an affliction monitored and “fed” through outrageous throes of passion. The sperm flies prodigiously in these scenes, which tend to settle into the back third and tail end of each book. In Kiss the Dead, there’s a rockin’ threesome around page 170, and two big blowjob bits about a hundred pages later.
Anita Blake wasn’t bitten with the ardeur until the tenth book in her series, Narcissus in Chains. It’s made her more sympathetic to the many ghouls and beasties she comes into (slurp, slurp) contact with, but she was plenty empowered already, and her hard-as-nails attitude hasn’t really changed with the ardeur.
Strangely, her hardcore trysts with the humanly changed have made Anita Blake more distinctive. She’s more conscience-driven and high-principled, but in such perverse and apocalyptic situations that her moral compass often acts as a detonator.
In Kiss the Dead, Anita Blake is charged with solving the kidnapping of a teen girl, which seems a sweet and do-goody romantic-thriller plot (not to mention a sop to Silence of the Lambs.) It’s a red herring, however. You don’t get attached to the young victim because it’s understood all along that there’s a much greater evil at stake. The minds of the mortals in the books—those grizzled policemen who think they’ve heard it all—are regularly blown by the enormity of the evil they’re facing. And this is in a culture which accepts vampires, werewolves and devils in the same way it might ethnic minorities—regular folks subject to major misunderstandings about their cultural traditions. The matter-of-fact nature of the narrative and the threat of city-destroying evil makes the books tick, then boom.
Every Anita Blake story tests the limits of good and evil, not to mention great and nasty copulation. It does so by following a set of simple storytelling rules. Like ““The newly risen can be just as animalistic as any first-time shapeshifter.”