A review of Laurell K. Hamilton’s ‘Guilty Pleasures’ chapter five


The coffin lay on its side. A white scar of claw marks ran down the dark varnish. The pale blue lining, imitation silk, was sliced and gouged. One bloody handprint showed plainly; it could almost have been human. All that was left of the older corpse was a shredded brown suit, a finger bone gnawed clean and a scrap of scalp. The man had been blond.

Eurgh. That’s a fairly nasty crime scene. There’s a second body lying close nearby and he’s been stripped of all his internal organs. Man, this world has a lot of problems. Anita examines the bodies, thankful for the dark, but can’t find any clues as to identity or cause. Some expert you are. She’s been called in especially by the local police force. The sergeant, Rudolf Storr, is head of the Regional Preternatural Investigation Team (RPIT) and… why the hell is Anita not employed by them? She’s a expert at this sort of thing. It’d make sense. Although apparently according to the next sentence, the job isn’t highly considered and is a bit of a career dead end. Which doesn’t make much sense anyway.

Dolph had pissed somebody off, or he wouldn’t have been here.

Oh no, being head of a division of the police is a massive step down. What kind of a bizarro world is this? But Anita has worked out what happened.

“It was a ghoul attack.”

An Arabic demon. In the middle of the continental US. Oh, sure, why not? Why don’t you tell us all about ghouls, Anita?

“This cemetery is still holy ground. Cemeteries that have ghoul infestations are usually very old or have satanic or certain voodoo rites performed in them. The evil sort of uses up the blessing, until the ground becomes unholy. Once that happens, ghouls either move in or rise from the graves. No one’s sure exactly which.”

Uh, no. Just no. Ghouls are Arabic cannibalistic spirits that live in desserts, caves and cemeteries. They do not come into existence because of satanic or voodoo rites. You’d be hard pressed to find people doing satanic rituals in the middle of the Ottoman Empire and voodoo has only existed from the eighteenth century – ghouls are ancient. And they certainly do not rise from the grave, seeing as they don’t even look vaguely human. It can look like a camel, an ox, a horse, or a one-eyed ostrich, things not that commonly found in mainland America.

“Vampires are made by other vampires. Zombies are raised from the grave by an animator or voodoo priest. Ghouls, as far as we know, just crawl out of their graves on their own. There are theories that very evil people become ghouls. I don’t buy that. There was a theory for a while that people bitten by a supernatural being, wereanimal, vampire, whatever, would become a ghoul. But I’ve seen whole cemeteries emptied, every corpse a ghoul. No way they were all attacked by supernatural forces while alive.”

You’ve just contradicted yourself hugely. You said no one knew whether corpses became ghouls or not, but then you rambled on about how corpses become ghouls, which isn’t the case anyway. Consistency! You need it in your narrative.

“Ghouls don’t rot like zombies. They retain their form more like vampires. They are more than animal intelligent, but not by much. They are cowards and won’t attack a person unless she is hurt or unconscious.”

That’s not accurate either. Hamilton, did you even bother to do any research? Ghouls are renowned in folk-tale for being very nasty vicious thieves, and are capable of setting elaborate traps to catch travellers. They like to eat fresh meat much more than dead.

“Dolph, these ghouls traveled quite a distance to reach this cemetery. There isn’t another one for miles. Ghouls don’t travel like that.”

No, no. Ghouls travel extensively. Wow, the research for this book was really lazy.

Dolph asks whether it was someone pretending to be a ghoul and Anita says a human could eat someone but they wouldn’t have the strength to tear the corpse apart. It wouldn’t have been a vampire, because they don’t eat meat, and a zombie is only a possibility. They only rarely go crazy for flesh, even though they need fresh meat to stop decaying.

oh, look, there’s another hole in the logic of the narrative!

Having helped out by giving incredibly inaccurate information, Anita heads back to the bachelorette party, and all the police officers make lewd comments and jokes.

Two eaten corpses around them and they’re making sex jokes. Stay classy guys!

Also, this is the end of chapter five and it’s only page 25. Something is wrong with that.

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5 thoughts on “A review of Laurell K. Hamilton’s ‘Guilty Pleasures’ chapter five

  1. Yeah, naming things “ghouls” but not really falling back on the Arabic origins isn’t really unheard of. the World of Darkness RPG does it, too, and the ghouls are vampire-made servants.

    Also, um… American cops making lewd and inappropriate jokes during horribly grisly crime scenes is how they deal. Not saying it’s right, it’s just how they have adapted psychologically to handle the horrible things they have to see. I imagine in preternatural/supernatural settings the human cops would be even worse when dealing with non-human victims, unfortunately.

    • LKH claims to do a lot of research. With that research, she made ghouls – clever, autonomous creatures living in the Middle East – into a strange by-product of the Judeo-Christian belief system and creatures that do not think, just appear and eat people because they are stupid and can’t do any better.

      Just because other media make ghouls into something other than what they are does not make it okay, especially seeing as out of all the monsters LKH uses for her books, there is a very unfortunate racist slight to it. The creatures that originate from white European belief systems – vampires – are clever, sexy, and thought to be amazing despite their evil. Creatures that are from non-European origins are stupid (zombies and ghouls), suddenly have a religious connection that was not present and the religion is not one from where they originate from (ghouls), or are just plain evil with no redeeming qualities (lamia). Taking into account the frequency with which LKH lauds European traits and European attriubutes, this lands her works squarely into ‘unfortunate implications’. And that is why I take umbridge at making ghouls into mindless level one monsters.

      As to the police making jokes at a crime scene… I get that police officers need a release from seeing grisly crimes. But making sex jokes to the only woman on the team (oh yeah, love the constant sexism always on display in these books), over two bodies that have been ripped open for organs is inappropriate, disrespectful, and unprofessional. I would like to think that if I was murdered, people would be investigating the crime, not making jokes over my body.

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