Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Release Day Review: Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis - 4 Qwills

Hard Spell
Author: Justin Gustainis
Series: Occult Crimes Unit Investigations 1
Format: Mass Market Paperback, 416 pages
Publisher: Angry Robot Books (July 26, 2011)
Price: $7.99
Language: English
Genre: Urban Fantasy
ISBN: 978-0-85766-115-9
Review copy: Provided by the author. I also bought the e-book since it was released ahead of the Mass Market Paperback.

Cover and 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.

File Under: Urban Fantasy [ Dial V For Vampire | Forbidden Spells | Bite Club | Scranton By Night ]

My thoughts:

Hard Spell is the first book in the Occult Crimes Unit Investigations series by Justin Gustainis. I've read a lot of books recently that include some sort of supernatural crime investigation unit - either with humans policing supernaturals, with supernaturals as police/law enforcement or both. I have not read anything quite like this.

While I am not an expert on noir, Hard Spell is definitely noirish. Stan Markowski, the main character, is fairly hard-boiled, he's got an air of desperation about him for a variety of reasons which become clear in the novel. The novel also pays homage in its way to Dragnet (a police procedural radio then TV show starring Jack Webb). I loved this element in the book. Essentially, however, this is an Urban Fantasy police procedural with noir elements. And it's a very good Urban Fantasy.

Hard Spell is set in an alternate Scranton, Pennsylvania, which I believe is a first. I learned some things from the book: Scranton is in an area of Pennsylvania called the Wyoming Valley. I also learned some slang indigenous to that area. Learning new things is always a plus for me in a book.

I like the main character Stan Markowski a lot. The story is told from his point of view. He's not a typical hero by any means. He's is a good cop though he stretches the rules here and there. His partner, Karl Renfer, makes a perfect foil for Stan. Stan and Karl work for the Occult and Supernatural Crimes Investigation Unit, which is nicknamed the "SupeSquad." The police procedural elements are well done. You can tall that Mr. Gustainis did his homework, but he does not bog down the book with too many procedural details.

I really like some of the secondary characters in the book, even some of the creepy and scary ones. The SWAT team is really great. Read the book to find out what SWAT means in this instance.

This is a fast moving book with terrific pacing. Stan and Karl deal with several crimes while also trying to figure out the big mystery surrounding some interrelated crimes. The book moves towards the ultimate showdown while skillfully weaving together several intersecting plot lines. The ending surprised me a bit, but in a good way.

The language can be a bit coarse at times, but it suits the tone of the book. There are some moments that made me laugh and/or smile. For example, you reach the SupeSquad by dialing "666." That actually makes a lot of sense.

This is a very good start to a new series, and I'm looking forward to the next book.

I give Hard Spell 4 Qwills.


  1. Now I'm looking forward to reading this book. Great review. Thanks for making me add yet *another* title to my TBR List, Q! ;)

  2. My pleasure, rissatoo. Oh... was that sarcasm? :)

  3. My preceding comment *may* contain up to 50% sarcasm. :p