Hard Spell / Evil Dark by Justin Gustainis. Book review

HARD SPELL / EVIL DARK by Justin Gustainis, Angry Robot, p/b £7.99 each, ebook £4.49 each, http://angryrobotbooks.com/

Reviewed by David Brzeski

Books set in an alternate reality, where vampires, werewolves, witches and other supernatural beings are not only real, but are known to exist by the general populace, are not uncommon these days. They are rarely this well handled. Gustainis cleverly rewrites our history in the light of the existence of “supes”. The McCarthy witch-hunt, for instance, was actually a witch hunt. The civil rights movement fought for the rights of supernatural beings. There are endless cultural (and pop cultural) references which help in creating a believable background for these books.

‘Hard Spell’, introduces us to Stan Markowski of Scranton PD’s Occult Crimes Unit. We also have meth addicted goblins, a vampire wizard and a serial killer who is targeting “supes”. As the book progresses, we meet the new partner he has to break in, the department’s consulting witch, a very different sort of SWAT team and eventually find out just why Markowski hates vampires.

It’s fast paced, witty and scary and would get a good review from me on its own.

‘Evil Dark’, however, is even better. Despite all the fantasy supernatural elements, Gustainis never loses the authentic feel of the Scranton Police department and the people who work there. They act like real cops, working in a real precinct. The story is as hard-bitten and scary as any classic serial killer novel.

Someone is making a truly twisted variant on “snuff films”, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Markowski has to deal with his partner’s new status, the FBI, neo-nazi human supremacists and a new top dog in the supernatural community, all the while trying to avoid being murdered himself.

Things get genuinely nasty and Gustainis builds the tension brilliantly. Gripping hardly covers it. I simply couldn’t put the book down until I’d finished it. It has to be said that Gustainis has a slightly annoying habit of not bothering with numbered, or titled chapters, which means every time you get to a point where you might have stopped reading for a bit, you’ve already gone beyond it without noticing.

I think he does that on purpose!