(2009) Laurell K. Hamilton, Headline Publishing Group, £6.99, 594pp, ISBN 978-0-7553-5255-5
Skin Trade is the 17th offering in the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter Novels. Those who are familiar with the Novels will recognise the character of Anita Blake as a blunt but sassy petite brunette US Marshal. Who just happens to hunt down and execute Vampires. Based in present day but one where Vampires, wereanimals and certain kinds of magic are the norm.
The story opens when a head is mailed directly to Anita at her base in St Louis with a return address in Las Vegas. A rather powerful Vampire is at large and itís up to Anita to travel to Sin City and stop him. When she gets there she is joined by three other US Marshals. Edward, a close ally and friend but whose character still has an air of mystery to it. Bernardo Spotted Horse, a handsome, passionate American Indian and Otto Jeffries, a character of interesting definitions. Together with experience, some impressive weaponry and muscle they make a very powerful Vampire hunting team. With the help of the Las Vegas Police force and SWAT Team. The former stepped in bureaucracy, which slows Anitaís crew down at times. While the latter is a tight unit of willing psychics with awesome firepower, they race against the sunset to seek out and kill the Vampire. Who has already left death and destruction in his wake.
The hunt takes them across the Las Vegas landscape from famous landmarks to the mundane with some very visually beautiful places, both physically and in the minds eye. Altercations of a serious, hair-raising and sometimes sensual nature take place along the way with the resident wereanimals in the area. Some are already known to Anita while others are fresh new characters. New allies are made in some unusual places and as the situation worsens these creatures and allies join Anita in the hunt.
Overall the book is gritty and packed with a good mix of psychological crime noir and heart stopping action that keeps the reader turning the pages to the end. The authorís style is sharp and descriptive rather than challenging or confusing. The story itself is both intriguing and fast paced. There is a lot of swearing in the Novel and scenes of both a sexual and gory nature, but black humour is prevalent at times to break the tension.
The main strength of the book is that it can be read clearly as a stand-alone novel as well as being part of a series. This is mainly done by the way the author introduces her main characters. She does this in a short descriptive, relevant way that does not interrupt the flow of the story or give way to excess padding. When these characters come to light they take on an aspect that is more than two-dimensional with their own secrets to bare. Although they conflict at times there is a strong sense of teamwork, friendship and identity. With the will to get the job done no matter how many scrapes or setbacks they encounter.
Skin Trade is a book that breaks down a lot of genre boundaries and challenges social taboos. Appealing not only to the Horror and Fantasy fans but to Crime and Science Fiction fans as well. This is a book for both existing Anita Blake fans and newbies alike.
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