Filler content with flirting

A review that originally appeared in Black Static #20:-

Anita Black, vampire hunter and licensed necromancer, is a woman with principles: she won’t raise just any old dead person, and she needs a good reason to exercise her necromantic powers. One potential client she turns down won’t take no for an answer, and so hires a pack of were-lions to force Anita’s hand by threatening her friends and dependents. For Anita the only way out is to seduce one of her captors and then use her influence over him to turn the beast against the rest of his pack.

Laurell K. Hamilton’s FLIRT (Headline paperback, 179pp, £10.99) is the eighteenth book chronicling Blake’s adventures. It’s a series I dip into now and again, and about which I’m ambivalent – not really sold on the direction Hamilton is taking the character, the noir(ish) feel of early days giving way to an almost soft core porn sensibility, but at the same time not so turned off that I’m willing to bid the character a fond adieu. Every time I feel ready to let go, Hamilton will write something that makes me feel she really understands what horror is all about, not to mention passion and literature, and I’ll keep hanging on, even while not expecting the reality to match up to the promise.

Flirt is a short novel, and yet it has about it the unmistakable feel of being padded, a novella with pretensions to something more and a bumped word count to match. The base concept is not the most original of ideas (I think I saw it used most recently in an episode of Charlie’s Angels shown back in the 80s), but the author handles it well and there are interesting asides on the nature of packs, the various pecking orders etc., while the situation of Anita, an ostensibly puritanical woman who must use sex to save herself and others is, as ever, an intriguing one, the pretext for all sorts of moral qualms and guilt trips. There are also some pretty gutsy action scenes at the end, when the whole thing falls apart, with Anita’s power let loose in all its destructive fury.

And yet padded, with the main cause of offence a totally irrelevant scene in which Anita and her cohorts visit a restaurant and flirt outrageously with the waiter, and another scene which is almost a replay of the original approach to Anita and seems to have been inserted simply so the reader will have a red herring conveniently on hand rather than guess the identity of the bad guy straight away. The restaurant scene, as Hamilton tells us in the afterword, was based on a real event and, apparently, was the inspiration for the book, yet there’s a cringeworthy quality, both to the scene and the reality, as the wage slave desperate for a tip gets flustered by the suggestive way in which the beautiful people bat their eyelids at him, treading the thin line between flirtatious playfulness and sexual harassment. My suspicion is that the only reason the scene was left in was so that Hamilton could ‘tell it like it was’ in the afterword, and also as a pretext for publishing a cartoon at the end in which one of Hamilton’s friends relates the same story in a different medium (personally, I’m looking to read the waiter’s version). There are reasons why writers are urged to ‘kill their babies’, and this unnecessary and distracting drivel in what might otherwise pass muster as a gory, action packed romp of a book demonstrates perfectly what they are.

And yet how can I give up on the work of someone who, at the end of the afterword, boldly declares, “If it can bleed me, eat me, or fuck me, I want to write about it”? It’s a conundrum, my friends, indeed it is.

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