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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

The Laughing Corpse

Reviewed: August 6, 2004
By: Laurell K. Hamilton
Publisher: Jove
304 pages, $9.99

Anita Blake raises the dead for a living. She lives in a world which is pretty much like ours, except that magic is an accepted reality and vampires can't be staked out of hand unless they've actually been convicted of killing people. It's an alternate reality, and we don't see a lot of it except for the parts that are connected with Anita's life in St. Louis.

Blake is an animator, which means that she can raise zombies. While this may sound like an odd occupation at first gloss, imagine the advantages of being able to question murder victims about who killed them, or being able to question the deceased as to his intentions in a case where there was a problem with the will. So Anita raises corpses, gets the answers, and them returns them to the ground.

Sometime in Anita's past, before the courts offered due process to the undead, she was also a vampire slayer. This series began several years before Buffy made that concept a household word, and Blake was so good at it that she became known in certain circles as The Executioner.

While she now works for a speciality firm, Animators Inc., she is on retainer to the police to assist them in cases involving the supernatural. This is the basis on which she ends up participating in the various murder investigations which make up one plot thread in these books.

There are other things going on. Blake is favoured by the vampire Master of the City, one Jean-Claude, who fancies having her as his “human servant”, a status which would enhance her physical prowess as well as his mystical abilities. Blake is physically attracted to the master vampire, but morally repulsed by all that his race stands for, so she resists his advances. This provides a constant undercurrent of tension in the books.

There are things other than vampires and zombies in Blake's world. There are also ordinary villains who use the supernatural to get their way. Anita is approached by multi-millionaire Harold Gaynor to perform a reanimation. This might be standard fare for her except for one detail: the longer a person has been dead, the more magical force, as generated by a blood sacrifice, is needed to bring them back. Mr. Gaynor's request would actually require a human sacrifice, and Anita doesn't do murders.

Gaynor spends much of the rest of the book trying to bend her to do his bidding, with violent results.

What else? Someone has lost control of a particularly nasty creature of some sort. It is wreaking havoc among nice, innocent nuclear families in the city, literally shredding the bodies as it goes. The police need her help in tracking what seems to amount to a monster serial killer.

These elements drive this story at a breakneck pace towards solutions that are neither tidy nor entirely satisfactory.

There has been a general reissue of the books in this series lately. This one appeared first in 1994 and is currently available in both paperback and e-book formats.

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