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"Serpentine" by Laurell K. Hamilton

"Serpentine"

A novel by Laurell K. Hamilton

Published by Berkeley, 486 pages, $28

I was so disappointed with the last Anita Blake novel (“Crimson Death”) that it was with a certain trepidation that I opened this one. Had Hamilton lost her touch? Would this be another rambling tour through Anita’s many relationships, punctuated by a big fight at the end?

Well, there is a big fight at the end of “Serpentine.” And there is a lot of attention paid to relationships, fitting the setting, which is mostly at the site of an upcoming wedding. But it feels very different, and author Laurell K. Hamilton has never been more in control of her paranormal urban fantasy series.(tncms-inline)7e9b6c67-1e03-4b16-9e65-24b76b0fc7a5[0](/tncms-inline)

Edward, the deadliest monster hunter around, is marrying Donna, the widowed mother of two that he’s lived with for several years. Donna knows him as “Ted Forrester” (his legal identity and the name on his U.S. marshal’s badge). But there’s a lot she really doesn’t know about the man she’s marrying and what he does. Anita has never particularly liked her, but she knows Edward loves Donna, and she is willing to stand beside him as his best man. Woman. Whatever.

As the book opens in New Mexico, Anita’s biggest problem is Donna’s oldest friend, Dixie, one of the bridesmaids. Dixie is positive that “Ted” and Anita had an affair and is determined to derail the wedding. Once a cheater, always a cheater. After a quick interlude in St. Louis, Anita and Micah and Nathaniel, both wereleopards, travel early on to the Florida Keys, where the beach wedding is to take place.

Micah, meanwhile, has a problem in his role as liaison between humans and lycanthropes and between various lycanthrope communities. He’s been asked to help a local family with a problem. Instead of a person turning into a wolf or a wolf-man, or a leopard, or a rat, the human’s arm, for instance, becomes a writhing mass of snakes. The family believes they were cursed by a god back in ancient Greece. Micah is distraught because he can’t think of any way to help these people.

Then a woman disappears from the wedding hotel. Then another. The police decide the men in Anita’s life are their chief suspects. As if that’s not enough, an old “friend” shows up — one of the few people who actually scares Anita. If she is going to get out of this mess, though, she’s probably going to need his help.

This is not one of those hit-the-ground-running-and-never-let-up pulse-pounding adventures Hamilton is best known for, and while there are some sex scenes, it’s not one of those over-the-top pieces of erotica with a thin layer of plot.

I think this one is what she was intending with “Crimson Death” but didn’t quite pull off: a serious exploration of Anita’s now very complicated life, with enough tension built up throughout and a big monster-hunting climax to make everything fit into the “Vampire Hunter” canon.

Here, Hamilton pulls it off. “Serpentine” is not just better than the last one, but the best book she has written in a long time — maybe since “Obsidian Butterfly,” which has always been my favorite.

Stephen Bolhafner is a freelance writer living in the St. Louis area.