It is an inescapable fact that the longer a series goes on, the thicker the volume. Anyone who admits to following JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books will have noticed it. The first couple of books in the series were slim, manageable volumes but by the end, they were veritable doorstops. She is not the only author whose books have grown with time. Laurell K. Hamilton is also guilty. The first of the Anita Blake series fitted nicely into a pocket, this latest, the twenty-fifth, is massive. Sometimes the extra size is warranted where the complexity of plotlines and character development has vastly increased. At other times it appears that the book has run away from an author who is no longer quite in control of the creation. Unfortunately, that is what has happened in this case.
When Anita Blake was created, she was a hunter of rogue vampires. This is a world where vampires have come out of the closet – often literally. They have to obey rules, one of which involves not killing humans. They can feed from humans where they have consent. If they break the rules, they get hunted down. As in the best series, the main characters develop, and Anita is no exception. She is still a hunter but she is engaged to Jean-Claude, a vampire King. She also has many other lovers, male and female, casual and permanent, the most important being Nathaniel and Micah who are were animals. Throughout the series she has collected connections with various members of the supernatural community. The number and exact relationships is complex and tends to clutter the story-line. For the reader to keep track of them is difficult.
There are two elements introduced at the start of Crimson Death that have the potential to create a fascinating plot. Firstly, Anita has acquired a vampire servant. Normally, vampires have human servants to provide food. Anita, Nathaniel and the vampire, Damian, have formed a triumvirate which has not been exploited because of Damian’s possessive girlfriend. Damian, though, has begun to have dreams. This is unusual since vampires don’t normally sleep, they die with the dawn. He wakes from the dreams sweating blood. From the title, it would be reasonable to expect that this would be the Crimson Death. No, as once the three start having sex together, the problem disappears. Opportunity missed.
The other issue is that there has been a spate of vampire killings in Ireland. The generally held belief is that there are no vampires in Ireland. Damian disabuses them of that. There have always been vampires in Ireland. That is where he was made before fleeing to America. The vampire who made him has kept a very tight rein on her progeny so that the nest has remained undetected. The question, then, is why the sudden outbreak. Has she died, or lost control. Anita, in the capacity of Marshall, and an entourage of lovers and bodyguards, heads for Ireland to link up with Ed Forrester, a Marshall she has worked with before. While her personal circumstances might make it logical for her to have so many accompany her, the number is unwieldy and gets in the way of the action. Fewer focal characters would have made the action much slicker provided a more continuous sense of action. The pace does pick up towards the end by which time it is getting late.
The biggest problem is the habit that some of the characters have of standing around having meaningful conversations. When Damien sweats enough blood to coat all the people in the bed, it takes nearly forty pages for them to reach a shower and clean it off. Episodes like this slow down the action and dilute the atmosphere. Perhaps it is time for judicial editing. With pruning and a tighter control on the plot, this could have been a fine book. As it is it is unwieldy and full of missed opportunities. It is possible that this volume will lose Hamilton some of her readership. A shame, because the underlying premise of the series still promises much.