Once upon a time, before the Anita Blake series became cheap porn with well-endowed vampires and werethingies, there was "Guilty Pleasures."
Laurell K. Hamilton's breakout debut was one of the early urban fantasy stories, though by no means the best. It's an amusing, gorey story with some unusual twists, but it often seems like a goth teenager's daydreams of vampire romance and superpowers.
It takes place in an alternate universe where werecreatures and vampires live amongst us openly. Anita Blake is a vampire hunter -- known as the Executioner -- and an animator, able to raise zombies from the dead, but she isn't too fond of vampires or weres. So when a vampire comes to hire her, she turns him down. But at a bachelorette party, she soon finds herself hip-deep in vampire politics, courtesy of the sensual club-owner Jean-Claude.
Things only get more complicated when she ends up facing the Master of the City, a deceptively sweet-looking little vampire who wants answers about the murders right away. Anita is going to end up facing a dungeonful of wererats, zombies, vampire groupies... and possibly the seductive Jean-Claude.
Admittedly there's not a lot of innovation here -- there are foppish, sensual vampires in the Anne Rice style, attack zombies, an army of werecreatures, and a Buffy-style heroine. It's a bit of a horror mishmash, and Hamilton never really adds much to the equation.
Nor does she add much to the simple murder mystery that the plot revolves around -- take your basic crime thriller, and add a few supernatural characters. Bang, you're done. But Hamilton loads it down with gore, violence, mystery and some unusual twists, such as Anita visiting a "freak party" full of vampire groupies and junkies.
As for her writing, Hamilton will never win a Pulitzer, but it's sparky and colourful enough to maintain a reader's attention. However, Anita's scenes with Jean-Claude needed work. While they have a sexual snap, some of them reek too much of a fourteen-year-old goth's fantasies of vampire romance.
Despite her goddess-of-the-universe turns later in the series, Anita Blake is a more compelling character here -- flawed, blunt, and very scarred. And Jean-Claude is fascinating when he's being manipulative to everyone... and much less so when he's awkwardly flirting with Anita. All other characrers more or less range from two-dimensional (the cartoonish Nikolaos) to the bittersweetly realistic (Philip).
With no hint of what was in store, "Guilty Pleasures" is nothing more or less than what its title suggests -- a lightweight adventure story with vampires and a Buffyesque heroine.