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Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis

Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis
4.5
Book Name: Hard Spell
Author: Justin Gustainis
Publisher(s): Angry Robot Books
Formatt: Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy / Crime
Release Date: July 26, 2011

Stan Markowski is a detective in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Like many normal detectives, he has a partner, drives an unmarked car, and carries a gun. A gun loaded with silver bullets blessed by a priest. Okay maybe that’s where the similarities end. You see, Detective Markowski works in the Occult Crime Unit. Not that such a thing is unusual these days. After all, the undead are people too. And werewolves and witches have the same rights as everyone else, it’s just their cases sometimes need to be handled a bit…differently.

When an ancient magical tome is stolen, different is just what the town of Scranton gets. A serial killer is on the loose! A serial killer who just happens to be offing vampires. Are the two crimes related? Could the thief be trying to revive some great evil and end the world as we know it using the missing book?

The facts point to probably, but the supernatural community is scared, and the answers to Stan’s questions seem harder to find than a witch at Christmas mass. And while tracking vampire killers, demon summoners, possessed women, and radical cult members is in the job description, generally Stan isn’t called on to do all of them at once. But with the help of his new partner Karl and a shady-looking gentleman named Vollman, Stan attempts to unwind the mystery and stop the killer before he (or she) can accomplish their evil task. Hopefully without getting himself killed in the process.

- – -

Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis, is the first book in the Occult Crimes Unit Investigation series. Its first person narrative follows Detective Stan Markowski as he and his partner Karl Renfer try to solve a series of gruesome murders.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book as I knew nothing about it until I received it in the mail (I won it in a contest done by the publisher, Angry Robot Books). The back blurb reminded me of the old cop series my sister and I used to watch on TV growing up and the story itself did not disappoint.

The setting for the story is an alternate version of present day. In the book’s altered history, supernatural elements from Europe (i.e. werewolves, vampires, and ghouls) were brought back to the States after World War II. While initially despised, supernaturals, or supes, were eventually granted equal rights with humans during the American Civil Rights movement. Now supes are everywhere, and just like humans, some are law-abiding citizens and some are, well, less law-abiding.

Stan Markowski is the typical hard-boiled detective whose job is working on cases where either the suspect or the victim is a supe. He’s good at his job and bad at dealing with his family. He has skeletons in his closet, but is trying to do the right things in life. He’s not a super-genius but he is very streetwise and always knows when he’s in over his head, even if it’s too late to do anything about it. And in this world were goblins do meth and True Blood is a documentary, Stan is just trying to keep his town safe and do his best to keep his partner and himself alive one more night.

This was a fun story to read. It wasn’t very deep and if you ever seriously watched cop shows on TV there won’t be a lot of surprises. But the whole concept of a world where you call 911 in case of emergency and 666 in case of a supernatural emergency, is just cool in my mind. My favorite thing about this story is its flavor. Unlike some of the other urban fantasy I’ve read, this is a place where otherworldly things are no longer mystical, and seeing a werewolf at the grocery store is something that most people take for granted. Overall, it was an interesting take on the genre and fun read if you like cop/detective serials. And for myself, I will definitely be picking up book two!

Hard Spell is due out in the US on July 26, 2011 and is available now in the UK and in ebook format. The sequel, Evil Dark, will be available in April 2012.

For disclosure purposes, I won an ARC copy of Hard Spell from the publisher in a giveaway contest, but chose to review it on my own. Winning the book did not influence my opinion in this review.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (5 votes cast)
Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis, 10.0 out of 10 based on 5 ratings
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One Comment

  1. I seem to be the only one that did not like this book. I admit I am jealous, it’s better to like something than to dislike it. Head over to my blog for a very different opinion of Hard Spell. I was also given a review copy of the book by Angry Robot.

    Justin has written a book with a very similar theme back in 2009 called Black Magic Woman. Might be worth checking out.

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