Books »Nevermore

by William Hjortsberg (1994)

Nevermore is silly fun, though to my surprise based on some real events and relationships. The story focuses on the (true) friendship between magician Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. They shared an interest in mysticism but became enemies based on their opposing views. Doyle was a passionate believer, Houdini a staunch skeptic. It’s no wonder then, that it’s Doyle who sees the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe is Hjortsberg’s serial killer mystery (the serial killer part – not so true).

Despite the spiritual leanings and fun with ghosts, actual New York events and places (I am a sucker for anything set in the early days of the city) and wild sex scenes that jump out of nowhere, this is a stunningly common mystery novel. The reveal never as good as the lead up. It’s all fine and good, but just not what I expected from Hjortsberg, whose sci fi weirdo novel Gray Matters, about the enlightenment of man and floating brains, was far more trippy and unique.

Still, judged for what it is, rather than his previous work, it’s great fun for mystery novel lovers and interesting for anyone curious about the Jazz Age in New York and the tricks of Houdini.

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Posted on November 23, 2010

Books »Guilty Pleasures

guilty pleasures laurell k hamiltonWhile Laurell K. Hamilton‘s Anita Blake vampire hunter novel Guilty Pleasures is certainly an appropriate title for this week’s theme, I wasn’t so sure I’d actually be able to recommend it due a few previous reading missteps. I tried re-reading some V.C. Andrews and found myself feeling all the guilt without any pleasure so I tried a Gossip Girl book but I found myself bored. Buffy knock off or not, I thought this book was perfectly entertaining and, happily enough, there was enough to keep me feeling a little bit guilty too.

For example, Guilty Pleasures refers to a vampire strip club where several scenes in the book takes place. Like most vampire novels (see Twilight) no one can get over how fast they are, and Anita Blake (a hard-boiled and, frankly, bigoted hunter) spends most of the novel gritting her teeth and resisting their power through sheer brassiness and sassiness. It’s a role I can only imagine a Hollywood casting director giving to Eliza Dushku – but I hate Eliza Dushku and her crooked eyebrow acting style, so instead I chose to envision Vanessa Ferlito (Butterfly in Death Proof).

It’s a good one to try for Twilight fans, though it lacks the high school romance. There’s romance, kind of, but it seems that everyone this Anita meets is a suitor, so it’s hard to figure out which buff guy to actually root for. Is it the stripper vampire junky who wears fishnet shirts? Or the ancient vampire who blushes and tells Anita he “likes” her? Or is it Edward, the ultimate bounty hunter who’s always there for her as a friend? It’s all pretty mild stuff but, from what I’ve read, Hamilton gets kinkier and kinkier as the series evolves and the last books are so groin-centric that they’re shelved in the romance section.

Plot-wise sure, Hamilton may have co-opted some basic ideas from Joss Whedon’s 1992 screenplay, but who knows – I will say that the much less successful and painful to watch True Blood (oh, my stars!) most likely took inspiration from Hamilton’s work. Set in an alternate reality 1990’s St Louis, vampires and other supernatural beings are recognized as citizens. Anita, aside from slaying vamps, is an animator. Not like an artist for Dora the Explorer, but someone who raises the dead. She does this for profit through an agency, but she actually prefers killing to reanimation.

The big kill would be the Master, a Shirley Temple-esque 1000-year-old vampire that runs the town. But, before she can drive a stake in the Master’s heart, Anita has to do a job for her: find out who (or what!) has been murdering vampires. In the process, she meets the coolest characters in the book, a pack of Were-rats that wear cut-off jean shorts.

It’s a quick and easy beach read, perfect for mindless fun in between books less likely to earn you judgey stares on the subway.

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Posted on March 30, 2009