Blood Noir by Laurell K. Hamilton
(Berkley, 25.95, NC-17) ISBN  978-04252-2219-5
Book number way-up-there in the Anita Blake series is finally getting back on track.  To most readers, this means more mystery, less sex.  Although Anita's far from celibate in this book (in fact, in this book alone, taking two new lovers on top of the two regulars that have a scene or more in her bed - on her floor - in her bathroom ...).

Although the blurb on the jacket says Blood Noir is about the troubles Anita encounters with the Mother of All Darkness - the first-ever vampire who is supposedly lying dormant on another continent yet has managed to plague Anita for several books now - while away from St. Louis, this isn't necessarily true.  Yes, Marmee Noir does do her mental mojo thing and send Anita into yet another supernatural fiasco or three (thus the two new were-tiger sex partners), the basis for this book is Anita and Jason Schuyler.

Yes, Jason finally has a book.  Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that he isn't one of her "regulars", Jason is one of Anita's closest friends.  When he gets word that his estranged father is dying of cancer, Jason decides to make the trip to Tennessee to see him.  The only thing is, Jason's mom wants him to appear straight - which he is anyway -because his father has always been convinced that he's not.  Anita reluctantly volunteers to accompany him. Of course, since Hamilton has a habit of talking issues to death, the effects of his relationship with his father on Jason's daily life come up frequently. Naturally, this leads to issues Anita has with her own family and so on and so forth.

As usual, something suspicious pops up.  However, it doesn't get lost in everything else in this book; and although it isn't as fleshed-out as it could be, one should keep in mind that Hamilton isn't writing mysteries.  When they depart their plane in Jason's hometown, he is immediately confused for someone else.  The confusion leads to a lot of publicity; apparently Jason's double is something of a bad boy, and his family has ties to people with slightly-less-than-legal means and ways of accomplishing things.  Anita, as is her nature, sticks her nose into everyone's business and eventually discovers that Summerfield, Jason's look-alike, is involved with vampires. Since this is bad for his father's political future, someone is more than happy to pawn the problem off ... and Jason appears to be an easy candidate.  Clearly, these guys have never run into Anita before.

It should be made clear that I sincerely enjoy the Anita Blake series.  I should also point out that the last several books provided much, much less entertainment than, say, the first half dozen.  This book is not an exception to that; it has less action, absolutely no use of Anita's skills as a necromancer, and very little romance mixed in with all of the sex. As mentioned before, however, Hamilton seems to be working her way back up.  Anita's finally getting more comfortable in her own supernatural skin, which means her men don't have to suffer for her as much anymore.  The men themselves have always varied greatly, but their individual personalities are shining through a lot more than they used to do.  Anita's finally growing as a character, which is a major relief for those of us who felt that she'd gotten a lot more whiny and a lot less understanding of others.

You have to read this book if you've read the others in the series; that's a given.  I would not read this book without having read at least a few of the earlier books in the series. And if this one and The Harlequin (the one previous) are any indication, Laurell and Anita are working their way back to a much more action-packed and fun-filled series.

--Sarrah Knight

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