Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis

Hard Spell
Author: Justin Gustainis
Publication: Angry Robot; Original edition (July 26, 2011)

Description: Stan Markowski is a Detective Sergeant on the Scranton PD's Supernatural Crimes Investigation Unit.

Like the rest of America, Scranton's got an uneasy 'live and let unlive' relationship with the supernatural. But when a vamp puts the bite on an unwilling victim, or some witch casts the wrong kind of spell, that's when they call Markowski. He carries a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets.

My Thoughts: I loved this urban fantasy version of the hard-boiled detective story. The writing was compelling. I was constantly reading portions to a friend who was visiting. Stan was a remarkable character. His voice was pitch perfect. He is the dedicated, hard-working cop who is determined to keep Scranton safe from supernaturals who break the law. 

Stan's current case has to do with black magic and a vampire/wizard who is killing vampires to get ready to perform a ritual that can end life as they know it. Stan pursues all leads and angles. The case begins with the torture and mutilation of a local wizard and the theft of something from his safe. With no leads or forensics, Stan consults with his witch contact. She contacts the dead wizard but ends up taken over by him. Next comes a very ancient vampire named Vollman who also wants to find the book that was stolen from the local wizard.

The book that was stolen contains the blackest of black magic. Only five copies are in existence. Responsible wizards won't touch it. But someone not only wants it but wants to perform a ritual the needs the deaths of five vampires to complete. Along the way Stan and his partner consult with a visiting professor who has seen a few of the pages. They learn more about the spells but have no way to know what the goal is. They have a name for the wizard/vampire but have no way to locate him or predict what he will do next.

As Stan and his partner Karl follow clues and look for more information, they also have to work around Witchfinders who want to question the witch that Stan contacted. These Witchfinders are a more modern version of the witch hunters of the 1600s. Stan also has to deal with personal issues. His wife was accidentally killed by the vampire that she was seeing during an extramarital affair. That certainly gives Stan a prejudice against vampires. Also, at about the same time that his wife died, his only child developed leukemia. To save her life, Stan went to his wife's lover to have him turn his daughter into a vampire. The relationship between Stan and his daughter is not at all good.

I liked that the world that Gustainis created was so near our own. The way the supernatural creatures fitted in was very believable. I recommend this story to readers who like urban fantasy and who like mysteries. It would also appeal to fans of Jim Butcher's Dresden series or Glen Cook's Garret series. Even before I finished this one I went to Amazon and bought other books by Justin Gustainis. He is now on my "must buy" list.

Favorite Quotes:
Ned once explained to me that academic papers usually have a colon in the title, because so many of them are written by assholes.
It occurred to me that my last sentence sounded like something from a bad Fifties horror movie, accompanied by a melodramatic soundtrack riff. In my job, reality is sometimes like a bad movie--and sometimes it's worse. At least the movie usually has a happy ending.
The author sent me a copy of this book for review. You can get your copy in mass market or ebook versions here. And you should!

1 comment:

  1. I would have never thought to read this book if it wasn't for your review. It sounds like a paranormal CSI.


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