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I Belong

Review: Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis

Title: Hard Spell

Author: Justin Gustainis

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Series: Occult Crimes Unit Investigation (Book 1)

Publication Date: July 26, 2011

Format: Paperback, 400 Pages

ISBN-10: 0857661159 (Angry Robot)

ISBN-13: 978-0857661159 (Angry Robot)

Reviewed by: Sheila


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.

Quick & Dirty: A suspense filled supernatural detective story, with a little day-to-day realism thrown in for good measure.

Opening SentenceThis is the city – Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Excerpt: Yes

The Review:

Here is what I like about Hard Spell; the detectives come across like their real counterparts.  Real police officers have to put themselves into real danger, and are forced to make split second decisions with lasting consequences.  Given their inherently important jobs, I still like to think of them as everyday people that also have to deal with everyday mundane issues.  Hard Spell is a story of a supernatural cop’s life.  His every action feels genuine.  Stan Markowski has problems relating to his daughter, has a crush on a co-worker, and tries doing his best while on the job.  Can’t ask for more “real” than that.

In Markowski’s world, supernaturals are an everyday occurrence; and like all good citizens, there are the police that are there to uphold the law.  So when its looks like a string of murders are tied to a missing powerful and forbidden grimorie, the men in blue are on the job.  With the help of a witch consultant, an enigmatic and influential vampire, and old-fashioned crime solving techniques, Markowski and his partner, Karl Renfer, are on the hunt.  They have to stop a potentially deadly incantation that may “spell” doom for humans and supes alike.

This story is very similar to the movie, Blade 2.  Supernatural and human banding together to stop a “super” supernatural that threatens both factions.  Though the story isn’t new, the delivery and prose are.  Each character has very “human” flaws that make them relatable: Markowski harbors an unnatural hatred toward vampires, which his daughter happens to be, Christine looks for her father’s acceptance of her newly undead nature even though he is the one responsible for her becoming a vampire in the first place, and Vollman the vampire withholds vital information on the case for very personal reasons.  Even Markowski’s relationship with his new partner, Renfer, exhibits the tentative but growing trust between men that occur when you are responsible for each other lives.

Even though there is no real love interest, Markowski is still a guy.  He makes mention of a certain lovely married lady that he appreciates visually but refuses to go any farther with.  He is a man of ethics and fortitude.  I like the fact that he notices her without making it more than what it is; a fantasy.  Good man.

The other thing to make a note of in this book is the world itself.  Supernaturals are a large part of their world.  They are accepted much like racial, sexual, and religious differences are for us in this day in age; not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things.  Discrimination is still prevalent, but not government sanctioned.  City and government officials take their special abilities into account and apply the law accordingly.  I really enjoyed the new take on the S.W.A.T. team: Sacred Weapons and Tactics.  Classic!

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this paranormal crime story.  A perfect blend of criminal justice and paranormal mayhem.  This is a gem found among the multitude of similarly themed books.

Notable Scene:

A hundred feet or so ahead, a black cat was just starting to lead three of her kittens across the wide street.  I’m fond of animals, so I figured I’d better speed up a little- that way, I’d be past them and gone before they reached my side of the road.  I could’ve just slowed down and let them go first, but that would mean a black cat – hell, four of them – would be crossing my path.  I’m not superstitious or anything, but I still thought that was a bad idea.

Turned out I was right.

Because if I hadn’t speeded up right about then, the dead body that fell on top of us would have gone right through the windshield, instead of just putting a humongous dent in the roof.

Close to two hundred pounds of dead weight moving that fast – it might well have killed one or both of us if it had gone through the glass, or at least hurt us pretty bad.

But we were fine.  Being scared shitless doesn’t count.  Or so they tell me.

The Occult Crimes Unit Investigations Series:

1. Hard Spell

2. Evil Dark

FTC Advisory: The author provided me with a copy of Hard Spell.  No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review.  The only payments I receive are hugs and kisses from my little boys.

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One Response to “Review: Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis

  1. Midnyte ReaderNo Gravatar

    I read Evil Ways by Gustainis and really enjoyed it. I like that it felt “real” to you (the police, etc.) And, I loved the Blade series, so that’s a plus too! Really excellent review!

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