Monday, July 05, 2010

Just Shoot Me, Bullet

A couple of weeks ago, a girlfriend handed me a copy of Laurell K. Hamilton's latest novel Bullet. She refused to say anything about it, asking me to call her after I'd read it. I left the novel in my Toyota's backseat.

On Friday, I got caught in my car in a Target parking lot during a sudden, violent downpour. Rather than get soaked by running into the store, I reached into the backseat, retrieved Bullet and settled down to read.

Let me start out by saying I was a huge fan of the first nine novels of the Anita Blake series and I still am a fan of the Meredith Gentry series.

Over three years ago, I wrote here that I believed LKH had written herself into a corner with two aspects of the Anita Blake character:
(1) Early on in the series, LKH emphasized Anita's strong moral code, which prevented the character from hopping into bed with the sexy vampires and werewolves surrounding her, and (2) LKH got caught in a trap of giving more and more power to Anita in each new book in order for her to overcome her enemies. Eventually, that upward spiral had nowhere else to go. Anita became more powerful than the supernatural creatures around her.

That's when LKH came up with the plot device she called the "ardeur," the paranormal passion that demanded Anita have daily sex. In one fell swoop, Anita is now helpless in the face of this sexual need and also free to have sex with whomever she likes whenever she likes--because, of course, the girl can't help it. The ardeur offered a window out of the corner LKH had painted herself into: allowing Anita to sleep around and giving her a weakness she cannot overcome.
The series gradually morphed from urban fantasy to erotic romance and then to straight erotica. Plot gave way to character development and lengthy sex scenes. I abandoned Anita Blake completely after Micah, a 2006 novella.


Now it's four years later. The terrific imagery and imagination that characterized the early Anita Blake novels is gone. The novels have moved from erotica to pornographic fashion magazine with barely a nod to plot. Character development has yielded to endless descriptions of hair, eyes and clothing, repeated every time the scene switches and the characters change clothes. The repetition is maddening. At three different points, Jean-Claude and Asher are described as wearing leather pants that look like they're "painted on" their bodies. Never mind the squicky repeated references to Anita's breasts as "mounds of creamy goodness." I kept thinking of mashed potatoes.

The first 35 pages--four chapters--described an amateur dance recital in which three of Anita's men performed. Apropos of nothing.

The rainstorm ended about the same time the dance recital did, but by then I was like a spectator to a train wreck ... horrified but mesmerized and unable to walk away. I drove to a nearby Applebee's and went in to have lunch, bringing the book along.

The next seventy pages were devoted to a sex scene intended to prove to Asher that he shouldn't give up his day (night?) job as Jean-Claude's #2 in St. Louis, and leave to become a Master Vampire in another city. The dialogue includes passages like this: "You said that Jean-Claude loved Anita better than you; well, don't you love Jean-Claude better than you love Anita?"

I skimmed most of those seventy pages, convinced that there had to be a pony somewhere in this morass of verbiage.

I finished my lunch at Applebee's with nothing to show for it but a full stomach, two dead werelions and a plan to take over the Vampire Council before they could kill Anita and all her "big boys." I kid you not.

The waiter had just boxed up half of my Pecan-Crusted Chicken Salad for me to take home when I reached page 203. Anita got a phone call from a hitman telling her he'd turned down a contract to kill "you and your boyfriends."

Hope springs eternal.

Actually I was praying for Edward, the cold-hearted assassin, to appear. I gathered up my to-go box and headed home to drop off my lunch and continue my errands.

That night in bed I resumed reading, convinced Edward would make a late appearance to kill off the newly introduced cast of a thousand were-characters in this book ... let's see, there's Cardinal, Kelly, Rosamond, Jesse, Payne, Clay, Graham, Socrates, Bram, Dino, Emmanuel, God, Fredo, Ares, Mephistopheles, Pride, Envy, Julia, Black Jade, Reba, Hunter, and Jared.

Believe me, that's a lot of hair, eyes and clothing to describe ... it took about another hundred pages.

On page 219, hope resurfaced when U.S. Marshall Finnegan from Atlanta called Anita for a consult on a rotting vampire gone amok in his territory. I kept reading, expecting the old Anita Blake to travel to Georgia and terminate the sucker [pun intended]. The resolution of this subplot was the final blow. In the last chapter, this was it:
They found the Master of Atlanta by using the cadaver dogs like I'd suggested. They fried him with an exterminator team and it made international news.
All the freaking action took place off camera.

One last note. I had a huge problem with the editing of this book. The repetition didn't end with physical descriptions. There were other continuity problems. Here's one passage on Page 135:
"Bobby-Lee's southern drawl was almost startling after so many months without him. He'd been away on some hush-hush job for the wererats. They did mercenary work to bring in money for their group. Bobby Lee [notice no hyphen this time] had been away for a long time."
On Page 239 we have:
"I guess we were down to Bobby Lee, who was finally back from parts unknown after a lengthy job out of town. I didn't know details, and with some of the business that the wererats did around the world I probably didn't want to know."
IMHO, the Anita Blake books began going downhill in 2001 with the publication of Narcissus in Chains. The previous year, LKH had released the first book in her Merry Gentry series, A Kiss of Shadows. I don't know if she was feeling burned out on Anita, or if the pressure of releasing two books a year in two different series proved to be too much. What I do know is that continuing to defend the Anita Blake series is not a good strategy on a go-forward basis.

I vote for killing off Anita and her boyfriends and letting Edward return to town to avenge their deaths. I'd pay for that hardcover!


Mike Keyton said...

So funny :)

Maya Reynolds said...

Hey, Mike: Hope you're doing well.

So sad :(



Bernita said...

I have to agree. It's a pity.
She even managed to make sex dull in those later books.

Maya Reynolds said...

Bernita: I just checked the Amazon customer reviews. The book has received 30 5-star reviews and 81 1-star reviews.