Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton

Guilty Pleasures (1993) was written by Laurell K. Hamilton and is the first novel in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. Anita Blake is a tough as nails Animator (necromancer) who moonlights with the St. Louis police department dealing with the cases they are not equipped to handle, namely the kind involving blood sucking vampires. In Anita Blake’s world vampires and other supernatural creatures not only exist but they have come out of hiding as well. In the United States of America the vampire community has fought for and won rights under government law which makes life for a vampire hunter like Anita difficult at times.

In Guilty Pleasures the vampires of St. Louis have been targeted by a murderer who has a taste for only the most powerful vampires in the city. Anita hunts vampires because she fears them and the last thing she would ever want to do is help them find the killer but she quickly finds she has little choice in the matter.  Nikolaos, the most powerful vampire in St. Louis, sadistically manipulates Anita into taking the case. When Anita is mortally wounded by a vampire which cannot control itself she is saved by Jean-Claude who “gives her part of his life force” (also known as Marking) making her more resilient than your average human. Nikolaus wants Anita to find the murderer but there is something else the thousand year old vampire wants as well. She wants Anita.

Anita narrates her own story in the first person which adds a great deal of depth to what would normally be considered your typical supernaturally charged action thriller. Through Anita’s eyes we are immersed in the terrifying world of vampires, undead and were-creatures which Hamilton eloquently constructs even while we are swept along at neck break speeds. Hamilton surrounds Anita with colorful characters which works well with the fast pace of the narrative. Willie McCoy, the polyester wearing vampire middle man, only appears for five pages at the beginning of the novel but when he shows up later on he feels like an old friend come back for a visit. Hamilton is a master of constructing memorable characters with very few words.

Anita is a great character because she is such a strong woman who fits naturally into her own skin. She does not struggle with her identity, she is who she is and that is a refreshing change of pace in literature featuring female protagonists. Where Anita runs into conflict is where and how she chooses to express her sexuality and who she wants to develop relationships with. She attracts men of all kinds but she is very particular about who she lets into her private life. She is attracted to Jean-Claude but he holds power over her and Anita will not allow herself to be subjected to a life as a vampire’s servant. She and Phillip share a common, traumatic background and in a strange way she is attracted to that but she cannot allow herself to succumb to the trauma of their experiences like Phillip has.

Ultimately Anita needs to be strong because Hamilton is not going to show her any mercy in this book. The horrors which Anita confronts would drive most mortals insane but she finds a way to overcome and fights her way towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Pity the vampire that gets in her way and be ready to clean up the mess when she is done.