Monday, July 25, 2011

Early Review: Hard Spell (Occult Crimes Unit Investigation #1) by Justin Gustainis

Book: Hard Spell (Occult Crimes Unit Investigation #1) by Justin Gustainis
Release Date: 26 Jul 2011
Publisher: Angry Robot
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Law Enforcement, Vampires, Wizards
Summary: 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.
Buy It: Amazon
Note: Please note that I received this book for free from the author & publisher for the purpose of an honest review. I did not receive monetary compensation for my review and receiving this book in no way affected my opinion or how it was expressed in my review.

Review: Stan Markowski, as one of the detectives on the Occult Crimes Unit, has seen his fair share of supernatural crimes. He carries a gun loaded with silver bullets and always has a stake on hand, just in case. When a bust goes wrong and Markowski suffers a haunting loss, it's just the beginning of terrible things in Scranton. His latest case is a lot more dangerous and could mean the death of some of those closest to him as well as those of the whole city.
I've read a lot of urban fantasy. I love the genre and what it brings to the table. When I picked up Hard Spell I was expecting the usual elements and formula that I know and love, I definitely wasn't expecting any surprises, good or bad. Gustainis managed to shock me not only once but several times. It turned out that it was absolutely wonderful experiencing something new. One of these surprises involved an aspect of Stan Markowski that you simply never ever see in urban fantasy. It blew my mind and I loved it. I don't want to spoil anything but I also want to make it clear what it was. It was a relationship thing. I was caught completely off guard by it not only because I've never seen it in urban fantasy but also because it was meant to be a complete shock. I think it added a really interesting and complex twist to his character, especially when I thought I had him completely figured out.
Hard Spell has a gritty, almost noir feel and tone to it. I really enjoyed that because I haven't come across it in urban fantasy before despite detectives being a prevalent theme. I couldn't help but picture Markowski in a trench coat and fedora with a cigarette... and everything was in black and white. There was violence, a lot of it and it wasn't overly graphic but it was enough that if you have a weak stomach, you'd probably want to steer clear. It wasn't violence for the sake of violence though, again it had a noir quality about it that made it more like a cynical detective sharing the hard truths of his everyday life.
The beginning of Hard Spell, while I enjoyed it, is much slower and more information/background based than the rest of the book. It's a fairly long introduction period too and is not a good representation of the meat of the book. I was actually unsure if there was even going to be a main plot at first because the summary didn't mention one and I wasn't familiar with Gustainis' writing. Never fear, however, because there very much is a plot, a very dark and ominous one. Once I was introduced into the true storyline, I couldn't stop reading (and not just because there aren't chapter markers, that took some adjusting to). The ending, once you get past the gory, cringe-worthy bit, was utterly perfect. Loved it, couldn't have imagined a better ending for Hard Spell. It fit perfectly. I can't wait to see what the sequel brings us.
Hard Spell is the police procedural of urban fantasy, not a case and some fantasy elements used to lightly veil a romantic plot. There's often a fine line between paranormal romance and urban fantasy, this is without a doubt a true urban fantasy.

Quotes & Thoughts as I Read:
  • McCarthy wasn't necessarily wrong. Some supes really are dangerous, take it from me. He just didn't know when to stop. He started out trying to unmask vamps in the State Department, and more power to him (he was smart: subpoenaed everybody who worked the night shift). Interesting start, I'm always a fan of real life events being manipulated to fit supernatural storylines.
  • “Do I look like I'm kidding around?” I said. “There's been rumors the last couple of months that some of the local goblins have figured how to cook meth. Story goes, some big drugstore dumped a bunch of expired OTC drugs, including a whole shit load of cold medicine.” What's this? Cop talk?! Like Rizzoli & Isles or Caslte?! I get detectives in UF all the time but they talk like everyday people. Cop talk is a special language that I've yet to see outside of police procedurals.
  • A little later I asked, “How many, uh, necromantic rituals have you been involved in, so far?” Without looking up from what she was doing, she said, “Including tonight?” “Sure” “One.” “Oh.” Despite having seen very little of Rachel so far, I hope she sticks around. I like her character quite a bit, especially the backstory.
  • “I need you to do better than-” I began, then stopped. “Vollman? Vollman!” He was gone, the stagy old bastard. Karl summarized my feelings very well. “Fucking vamps,” he said. I have to admit that usually I prefer the 'good guys' to be a supernatural of some sort, but I've gotta say that I'm having fun with the humans right now.
  • McGuire still didn't take his hands away from his face. “They mayor was there,” he said. “Of course, he would be. He likes that intellectual stuff, or pretends to. I assume these are letters of complaint, maybe even demands for your badges?” “No, sir, not exactly,” I said. “They're letters of commendation.” That got McGuire's eyes open. “Commendation?” “For Karl's and my, uh-” “Heroic efforts, they said,” Karl said. Definitely wouldn't want to be a cop in their unit, they just can't catch a break! Funny though.
  • Sure, we'll be happy to take the word of a wannabe black wizard and cult murderer. And right after that, we're gonna see if Charlie Manson is free to babysit the kids Saturday night. Hey, I know we've got all those Pride, Predudice & Zombies or Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter books... but why isn't there a Zodiac Killer: Black Magician on the Loose or something like that? Or would that be in bad taste...

Rating: 4 Bites

Book Trailer


  1. Great review! I didn't know anything about this book but after reading your review, I can't wait to read it! Thanks!

    susanw28 (at) mindspring (dot) com

  2. Great review. I love occult books and am gonna otder this one. True crimes are my fav.


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