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on January 11, 2009
Zombies make awesome murder weapons. And when your anti-heroine is able to raise zombies, they make an excellent source for a horror/mystery plot. Laurell K. Hamilton's "The Laughing Corpse" has plenty of grotesque horror and zombie-related nastiness, as well as some clever social questions. But she fails somewhat in creating a convincing mystery story -- not to mention a tolerable heroine.
After rejecting psycho-millionaire client Harold Gaynor (who wants a very old zombie raised, requiring a human sacrifice), Anita is called out to look at the scene of a crime that seems to have been committed by zombies. So she starts investigating possible suspects -- including Dominga Salvador, a malevolent old vaudun priestess who has found a way to keep a zombie ensouled.
Unfortunately some very nasty things -- both living and dead -- are trying to stop Anita's investigations, both into the zombie murders and Harold Gaynor. With the solicitous assistance of Jean Claude and a fellow animator, Anita is able to find more and more information on the zombie-related murders -- and it turns out that Salvador and Gaynor may be working together.
Laurell K. Hamilton was pretty clearly shooting for an "old pulp noir mystery" feel in "The Laughing Corpse" -- acid-tongued anti-hero, grimy urban atmosphere, nasty big-shots, and a series of mysterious deaths. So she fills it with many descriptions of guns, dismembered bodies and creepy-crawly scenes (such as Anita holding a moving bird foot).
Her dialogue-heavy writing does tend to be lean and mildly hard-boiled, with a distinctly horrific vibe (prostitute Wheelchair Wanda tells Anita about Gaynor's sex games). But Hamilton has a rather clumsy style: endless sentence fragments ("Not resurrection. I'm not that good. I mean zombies. The shambling dead. Rotting corpses. Night of the living dead. That kind of zombie"), horrendous dialogue (""F**k you." "I have already offered that." "Damn you, Jean-Claude, damn you") and random rants about whatever bothers Anita at the moment.
In fact, her choppy stripped down style is all the more apparent when Jean-Claude enters the scene , inspiring odes to his vaguely effeminate clothing, hair, "glittering, dark jewel" eyes and "the perfection of his body." It's almost funny to see Hamilton go so completely gaga over a fictional vampire -- and despite Jean-Claude's spooky behavior, she' too in love for him for him to come across as truly scary.
It's too bad, because his manipulative cleverness would make him a brilliant anti-hero, and the question of ensouled zombies is a truly ghastly, thought-provoking one. Unfortunately, we have Anita -- a twenty-four-year-old woman whose seething bitterness is never explained.
It feels like Hamilton wanted to create a Raymond Chandleresque anti-heroine, but tried too hard. Instead Anita is obnoxious, rude, bitter, whiny and despises anyone/anything feminine ("The thought that I had actually spent money on anything pink was more than I could bear"), believing that this makes her "one of the boys." Hamilton uses "zombie rights" to try to make Anita seem compassionate, but her raving, inexplicable hatred of all vampires negates it.
"The Laughing Corpse" has a good story buried somewhere under the sentence fragments and cliche dialogue -- not to mention an awesome vampire and horrific zombies. -- but the heroine is simply too unpleasant.