Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Review of Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Supernatural Mystery/Thriller
Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Angry Robot; Original edition (July 26, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0857661159
ISBN-13: 978-0857661159

Book Description (from Amazon.com)
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 Review
Hard Spell, the first book in Justin Gustainis’s Occult Crimes Unit Investigation (Markowski) series, was absolutely amazing, one of the best books I have read in years. Since I usually read paranormal romance novels, I was not sure if I would be able to really sink my teeth into this one, but I am glad that I was wrong. I was totally hooked after reading only a few pages!

Hard Spell begins with an intriguing, alternate history of the existence of supernatural creatures, or “supes” as they are called by the citizens of Scranton, PA. Not only are their identities no longer concealed from the human population, but they also have the same civil rights and must follow the same set of laws as humans do (in addition to other regulations dealing with magic, infecting humans, and so on), and this is where the Scranton PD’s Supernatural Crimes Investigation Unit comes into play. This special unit of officers was created to solve crimes, crimes which have been both committed by and against “supes”, and Detective Sergeant Stan Markowski, with his dark personality, quick wit, and dry sense of humor, is the perfect man for the job.

Although he hates vampires, Markowski gets the job done at any cost, even if the victim is a vampire. Throughout the beginning of the book, the reasons behind his hatred of vampires as well as his passion for the job are unknown but as the story moves forward, Stan’s own secrets jump out at you when you least expect them to, revealing some very intense emotions and motives underneath his hard exterior.

While Markowski is the dark, determined force on the “supe squad”, his partner, Karl Renfer, brings a youthful, light-hearted aspect to the story. The two are the perfect pair - the combination of experience and the rookie, cryptic and clear, dark and hearty - molded into one odd, yet effective partnership which will leave you scowling and laughing at the same time. Early on, the duo find themselves in the middle of a fast-paced, gruesome murder investigation full of twists and turns which leads to a shocking yet entertaining ride for the reader. Each turn of the page left me craving more of these occult detectives - I couldn’t get enough!

I also enjoyed the variation of characters in the novel - human detectives who protected both the human and “supe” populations, a SWAT team (Sacred Weapons & Tactics Unit) compiled of humans, supes, and one ferocious hell-hound named Daisy, goblins high on Meth, white witches who aid the “Supe Squad” when called upon, witches practicing forbidden black magic, an old, creepy vampire-sorcerer named Vollman, an evil supernatural perpetrator on a mission fueled by vengeance, and many, many more creatures that go “bump” in the night. It seems that so many unique characters within one story would be overwhelming, but Gustainis has a brilliant way of weaving each of them into the plot so that the story flows along while still keeping you on the “edge of your seat”.

Gustainis has done a brilliant job of creating an array of unique characters as well as a dark, urban setting full of mystery combined with compelling dialogue, dark humor, and just enough blood and guts. Hard Spell was the perfect blend of reality and fantasy, and Gustainis’s style of writing fuses the known and the occult into one perfectly generated atmosphere where paranormal creatures and humans coincide. This book is now at the top of my “favorites” list, and I recommend that anyone who enjoys reading urban fantasy, mystery, or crime novels, should buy a copy and start reading today.

My Rating

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