The tales of vampire hunter Anita Blake have acquired cult status among her legions of fans. Now reissued as a trade paperback, this is the adventure that kicked off the saga 10 years ago. In present-day St. Louis, vampires, were-creatures and other supernatural baddies abound. Anita Blake, however is human, a licensed animator and executioner who raises the dead and kills rogue vampires for a living. She detests the bloodsuckers, but finds herself blackmailed into working for the city's Master Vampire, the sweet-faced demon-child Nikolaos. Someone is killing St. Louis' oldest and most powerful vamps, and if Anita can't discover the culprit her life will definitely be at stake.

For a first-in-series, Guilty Pleasures serves up an extraordinarily clear and comprehensive story, with vivid characterizations. The early Anita is reminiscent of Sue Grafton and Sarah Paretsky's tough P.I. heroines, with a jaded outlook and dry sense of humor carrying her through frightening and violent confrontations.

Series fans who began with later installments will be surprised by the Anita they find in this initial outing, a cold-blooded monster-hating killer, while longtime readers will be reminded of why they came to love this series in the first place. The romantic subplot is minimal but enticing, rather refreshing for those jaded by Hamilton's current trend toward frequent and graphic sex scenes. There is plenty of bloody carnage, however, which queasy readers might want to skip. The mystery itself is nothing extraordinary, either for the reader or for Anita to figure out, but the fun is all in the trip. (Aug., 368 pp., $13.00)

Reviewed by: 
Jen Talley Exum