Laurell K. Hamilton
The Lunatic Cafe (1996)
Anita Blake #4
Reviewed: 1999-09-11

Jingle bells, jingle bells... It's Christmas season. Which means business is slow at Animators, Inc. But fear not, there is plenty of action to come. This book's theme is shapeshifters. Anita Blake, animator of zombies and licensed vampire executioner extraordinaire, is about to be introduced to the community of the "lunarly disadvantaged", a world teeming with lycanthropes in every form and shape: there are werewolves, leopards, rats, a hyena is mentioned, and—would you believe it?—there's even a swan.

As usual, lots of things are happening. Always out for a buck, Bert, Anita's unlikable boss, even tries to put a missing person case before her. It turns out that in fact several people have disappeared—all of them lyncanthropes. What can take out full grown shapeshifters without leaving a trace? In an unrelated case, the police request Anita's assistance in resolving yet another preternatural murder where a human fell prey to... Werebirds? Gargoyles? Trolls? A dragon? Listening to Anita ticking off the possibilities on her fingers is enough to make your head spin. What is left of the victim points to a shapeshifter.

At the personal front, Anita is dating Richard and quickly sliding towards a serious relationship. Hamilton has a knack for romance. The description of these two lovebirds makes me swoon. There is a snag, though: Richard is an alpha werewolf entangled in a fight over the leadership of the pack. Can Anita be in love with a monster? We also learn about her attitude towards sex. Then there's Jean-Claude. The city's charming master vampire still hasn't given up on Anita, and he takes a dim view of fellow suitors. Be afraid. Suffice to say that the three-way relationship is growing complex. Add another problem: a jealous lady vampire who views Anita as unwelcome competition. Quickly the alligator factor increases from ass deep to neck deep.

A second theme of the book is dominance. Throughout the story, Anita is forced more than usual to establish her rank in the face of other people. In the case of her contact with the lycanthrope community, this quickly puts her as a dominant in the pack order, with all the advantages and problems this entails. Her old friend Edward, known as Death by the vampire community for excellent reasons, is back in town, too. Always his charming self, he openly wonders who would win if he were to come against Anita, i.e. who would kill whom?

Yes, this review is all synopsis and no comment. If you haven't read the previous books in the series you want to start at the beginning. If you have, you have probably figured out by now whether you like it. The Lunatic Cafe continues in the same vein, the formula is clear. And yes, I left a few surprises unmentioned. Hamilton has dug deep again to come up with further supernatural creatures from folklore and mythology.

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