The Laughing Corpse (novel)

The Laughing Corpse (novel)

infobox Book |
name = The Laughing Corpse
orig title =
translator =

author = Laurell K. Hamilton
cover_artist = Craig White
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = mystery, horror
publisher = Ace Books (Ace edition)
release_date = 1 September, 1994
media_type = Print
pages = 293 p. (Ace edition)
isbn = ISBN 0-441-00091-6 (Ace edition)
preceded_by = Guilty Pleasures
followed_by = Circus of the Damned
"The Laughing Corpse" is the second novel in the series of horror/mystery novels by Laurell K. Hamilton.

Plot introduction

"The Laughing Corpse" continues the adventures of Anita Blake, as she attempts to solve a particularly grisly set of murders, while simultaneously avoiding two potential threats to her life from people interested in using her talents as a zombie animator. Meanwhile, Anita continues to attempt to come to grips with her powers and her relationship with Jean-Claude, the vampire master of St. Louis and Anita's would be lover/master. As with its predecessor, "Guilty Pleasures", "The Laughing Corpse" blends elements of supernatural and detective fiction, specifically police procedural and hardboiled fiction in this novel.

Explanation of the title

Within the novel, "The Laughing Corpse" is the name of a vampire comedy club operated by Jean-Claude, one of the main characters. Hamilton employed the practice of titling the novels after a location within each novel for most of the books in the series.

Plot summary

"The Laughing Corpse" takes place in August, a month after "Guilty Pleasures" and begins with Anita and her manager, , visiting local millionaire Harold Gaynor to discuss a potential job. Harold explains that he wishes to animate and question a 300 year old corpse, and that he will pay millions of dollars for this job, as well as supplying the "white goat" necessary to accomplish the task. Although Bert hates the idea of giving up so lucrative a job, when Anita explains that the "white goat" is a euphemism for the human sacrifice necessary to animate a corpse that old, Bert refuses the offer.

While trying on bridesmaid's outfits for her friend wedding, Anita receives a call from , the head of the area's supernatural crimes unit. She visits the murder scene, and sees the remnants of a family, which she deduces was torn apart by an undead creature of some sort, possibly a flesh-eating zombie. One of the children is missing and possibly alive. In Anita's opinion, there are only two local people powerful enough to raise and command a flesh-eating zombie - herself and vaundun priestess Dominga Salvador. A third candidate, Peter Burke, recently died. Anita agrees to set up a meeting with Salvador to sound her out on the crime.

Anita's mentor, , sets up a meeting with Salvador. Salvador is a very evil and powerful vaundun priestess, and reveals that Manny was once a vaundun priest and Salvador's lover, and that Manny has committed human sacrifices. In return for Salvador's promise to investigate who is behind the murders, Anita agrees to view a demonstration of Salvador's technique for capturing the souls of the dead and installing them in zombies, preventing the zombies from degrading and allowing further punishment of the dead. Salvador proposes that Anita become her partner, and that they create ensouled zombies for profit. Anita refuses and they exchange threats, after which Anita is effectively chased out of Salvador's home by an unseen creature.

After refusing an offer from one of Gaynor's bodyguards to perform the animation on her own, Anita attends Peter Burke's funeral. At the funeral, she meet's Peter's brother, . John is a well known vaundun priest and vampire executioner from New Orleans, and Anita considers him as a possible suspect in the zombie murders.

Later that day, Anita meets one of her sources, newspaper reporter and werewolf , at "." Griswold gives her information on Gaynor, including the name of one of Gaynor's former girlfriends, Wheelchair Wanda. Griswold tries to get Anita to reveal either her information about Gaynor or the identity of the new Master of the City, but she refuses. Jean-Claude arrives, and attempts to convince Anita to accept her position as his human servant. She refuses, but agrees to meet him the next night at the "Laughing Corpse," a vampire-themed comedy club. Irving figures out that Jean-Claude is Master of the City, and Jean-Claude agrees to an interview.

That evening, Anita visits the cemetery where the corpse of the last member of the murdered family was found. Using her powers, she scans the graves, and finds one empty and recently disturbed grave. Although the gravestone has been smashed, Anita finds a charm bracelet and a piece of the stone, and takes them to an associate, Evans.

Evans, a touch clairvoyant, initially refuses to read the items. Ultimately, Anita convinces him, and he tells her that a woman wearing the charm bracelet was sacrificed to raise a zombie, then throws her out of his trailer.

That night, Anita wakes to find two zombies in her apartment, apparently sent by Dominga Salvador. She is able to fight off the zombies, but she and her apartment are both damaged. The next day, the threats on her life continue, as two thugs attempt to kidnap Anita and her friend, investigator . They question the thugs and deduce that they are working for Gaynor.

Later that evening, Anita visits the Laughing Corpse, and speaks to its new manager, former small-time hood and now small-time vampire . After watching the show, she meets with Jean-Claude, who explains that he needs her to appear as a willing servant in order to maintain his image and control over the city's vampires. She refuses again, but asks Jean-Claude to accompany her to Saint Louis's red light district as her bodyguard, so that she can find and interview Wheelchair Wanda. Jean-Claude agrees, and ends up accidentally seducing one of the prostitutes. He explains that being near Anita boosts his powers more than he expected.

Wanda initially refuses to talk, but Jean-Claude intimidates her into telling them that Gaynor, wheelchair-bound himself, prefers dating handicapped women. Wanda dated Gaynor until he met "Cicely", a beautiful but sadistic deaf woman. Wanda is also able to tell Anita that Gaynor is obsessed with the idea of finding a historic "family treasure" and thus revenging himself on a family that he believes has abandoned him.

The next morning, Dolph summons Anita to another zombie murder scene, where Anita engages in a game of one-ups-manship with another police officer, Merlioni, that ends with them playing catch with portions of the body to see who has a stronger stomach. Because the crime took all night and because zombies prefer to avoid daylight, Anita believes that the zombie is likely to be hiding in the neighborhood. Dolph begins a search of the neighborhood.

Dolph also authorizes Anita to show John Burke his brother Peter's effects, in an effort to question Burke further about his possible involvement in the murders. Burke and Anita find a magical gris-gris in Peter's possessions, as well as a charm from the charm bracelet Anita found at the mystery gravesite. Burke explains that the gris-gris was made by a powerful vaundun practitioner, that it involved a human sacrifice, and that it contained a portion of the maker's own power and would increase the power of any animator who possessed it.

Anita, John Burke, and the police confront Dominga Salvador with the gris-gris, which crawls towards her of its own power. Salvador refuses to admit that the charm is hers until Burke points out that if she does not, it will become his property because it was found in his brother's effects, and that he can use it to take a portion of her power for himself. At that point, she admits that the charm is hers, but absorbs it bodily without warning or ritual, which frightens Burke, who did not believe that it was possible. Salvador's grandson, Antonio, then confesses his role to the police, apparently because he was supposed to have taken the charm from Burke after his death and fears Salvador's revenge for failing in his mission. On the strength of the confession and a videotape of the events relating to the charm, the police arrest Salvador.

Anita returns to the neighborhood of the last killing, where the police have been unable to find the zombie. As darkness begins to fall, Anita realizes that the zombie, which will not grow sore or tired, might be hiding on one of the various garbage cans out on the street. She and the police begin opening cans, and the zombie escapes, wounding some of the police and confronting Anita after she gives chase. The zombie explains that it was an animator in life, and that it did not recover its memories until eating human flesh. It asks Anita to put it back in its grave, but Anita and the police destroy it instead.

After medical treatment, Anita returns home, where she is kidnapped by Gaynor's bodyguards. When she wakes up, she and Wanda are both prisoners at Gaynor's home, guarded by Gaynor's bodyguards Bruno and Tommy, Salvador's bodyguard herself, and a zombie chimera created by Salvador. Gaynor and Salvador (who has been granted bail by a judge under her influence) tell Anita that they intend to force her to raise another relative of Gaynor's, and that Wanda will be the sacrifice. When Anita refuses to assist willingly, Salvador leaves her zombie chimera to guard Anita and Wanda and begins a spell to compel Anita to obey her orders.

Anita is able to kill Tommy and Cecily and to use her powers over the dead to order the chimera to retreat. She and Wanda attempt to escape, but on their way out, the compulsion spell begins, and Anita is forced to return to the cemetery near Gaynor's home. Anita figures out that the spell doesn't force her to do anything other than follow Salvador's specific commands, and therefore leaves Wanda, depriving Salvador of their intended sacrifice. Salvador sends her bodyguard Enzo to get Wanda, and forces Anita to begin the ritual that will raise Gaynor's ancestor.

Anita tells Gaynor and Salvador what she has deduced - that Gaynor wished to raise one of his ancestors to find the treasure, but that Salvador, unwilling to perform a human sacrifice in front of witnesses, instead created a gris-gris that allowed Peter Burke to raise Gaynor's ancestor. However, because Gaynor's ancestor was an animator, he rose as an uncontrollable flesh-eating zombie. Burke was killed to keep the secret, but Antonio forgot to retrieve the gris-gris, providing the clue Anita needed to solve the mystery.

Although Salvador is angry that Gaynor didn't tell her that his ancestor was an animator, she continues with the plan. With Enzo and Bruno holding Wanda ready for the sacrifice, Salvador then commands Anita to "raise the dead." Anita follows that command literally, taking the offered machete and killing Enzo and Bruno instead of Wanda. The power released by two human deaths, combined with Anita's own power, allows Anita to raise and control every corpse in the cemetery. She orders the zombies to kill both Salvador and Gaynor, then lays the zombies to rest. Jean-Claude arrives, and explains that, as the undead himself, he felt Anita's power, but remained at a distance until she interred the zombies, apparently out of prudence in case Anita decided to use the zombies to kill him and free herself of her status as his human servant.

In the epilogue, Anita explains that the "disappearances" of Salvador and Gaynor have never been solved, that she continues to refuse Jean-Claude, has attended Catherine's wedding, and is considering the extent and implications of the power she now realizes she has.

Characters in "The Laughing Corpse"

Major characters

""'The Laughing Corpse" features the following major characters.
* Anita Blake: Anita continues exploring her relationship with Jean-Claude and her own abilities.
* Jean-Claude: Jean-Claude reveals that his decision to bind Anita as his vampire servant has increased his power, but that Anita's refusal to concede her role as human servant threatens his control over the city's vampires.
* Dominga Salvador: Salvador functions both as a villain and as a promise or warning of what Anita may become. The most powerful Vaundun priestess in the United States, Dominga Salvador is simultaneously grandmotherly and terrifyingly evil. She was Manny Rodriguez's former lover and very innovative in developing new and terrifying ways to use her powers. Salvador is initially quite interested in Anita, and attempts to recruit her as a protege and as a partner in a scheme to create and sell ensouled zombie slaves. When Anita refuses, Salvador first tries to have Anita killed, then creates a spell to enslave her. Ultimately, Salvador dies when Anita raises a cemetery full of zombies, who tear Salvador limb from limb.
* Harold Gaynor: The other "villain" of the work, Harold is one of many people who seek to use Anita's powers for their own ends. A self-made multimillionaire with organized crime connections and the product of a nonmarital relationship, Gaynor is obsessed with revenge on a family that did not admit he was a member, and wants Anita to raise one of his ancestors in order to find the location of a family treasure. He is confined to a wheelchair, and made a practice of dating handicapped women, such as Wheelchair Wanda. Anita ultimately orders him torn apart by zombies.

Other characters

* "The Laughing Corpse" featured reappearances from Anita's coworkers, , and , police officers and , and recurring characters , , , and . The novel also introduced recurring characters , a vaundun priest, vampire executioner, and possible love interest and , another co-worker.

* Non-recurring characters include Wheelchair Wanda, last seen waiting tables in the book's aftermath, RPIT Officer Maroni, and Antonio, who is presumably either in jail or murdered, depending on whether Salvador had time to take her revenge on him prior to her own death.

* The death toll in "The Laughing Corpse" includes John Burke's brother, Peter Burke, various murder victims, and numerous people killed by Anita: Salvador; Gaynor; Gaynor's girlfriend, Cecily, bodyguards Bruno, Tommy, and Enzo, two unnamed zombies, an unnamed flesh eating zombie animator, and a zombie chimera.

Major themes

"The Laughing Corpse" combines elements of supernatural and detective fiction to continue a formula that Hamilton used for her first several novels. The novel also continues a number of themes that began in the first novel.
* Anita gradually increases her comfort with Jean-Claude, the supernatural, and her own abilities. Although she is still uncomfortable with all three, the events of "The Laughing Corpse" lead her to use Jean-Claude for protection and to rely on her own supernatural abilities to a degree that would have been unthinkable for her even as recently as the last novel.
* Anita's continuing struggle for her own independence is also a major theme of this book. Several people, including Bert, Dolph, Jean-Claude, Salvador, and Gaynor, wish to use Anita's skills and powers for their own purposes. Anita works with Bert and Dolph, albeit only on her own terms, keeps Jean-Claude at a distance, and kills her remaining two suitors.

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