Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis – Review [Bane of Kings]

Hard Spell

Bane of Kings reviews Hard Spell, An Occult Crime Unit Investigation novel, written by Justin Gustainis and published by Angry Robot.

A Pure class combination of two popular genres. You must buy this book!” ~The Founding Fields

 (There may be minor spoilers in this review, just as a word of warning. Only minor though, and no major plot details given away here. Or at least, there shouldn’t be.)

 Vampires. Werewolves. Goblins. Sorcerers and the occasional Demon, Stan Markowski has experience with the lot.  Which is probably why, as a member of the Occult Crime Unit, Markowski carries a badge. And, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water alongside a 9mm Beretta containing silver bullets.

Hard Spell is the first novel in The Occult Crime Unit Investigation Series, written by Justin Gustainis, author of Evil Ways and Black Magic Woman, (Both by Solaris Publishing), this is his first novel under the reign of the Angry Robot, a spectacular relatively young publishing industry whose output is fantastic. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say, I’ve liked every Angry Robot book that I’ve read so far. If you haven’t checked them out already, now might be a good time to start taking an interest into their publishing range.

And Hard Spell was no different. A punchy, amusing and gripping novel set in an alternate universe where the creatures of your nightmares, are real. Real and dangerous. Told from entirely the point of view of Markowski, we follow his adventure as part of the “supe” unit, a part of the Police in Scranton tasked with keeping the supernatural beings in line.

The novel is told entirely from the point of view of Markowski, and Gustainis manages to make Markowski really interact with the reader, and makes you really get to know him over the course of this fantastic novel.

The novel kicks off with a bang, with Markowski on the scene with his partner ‘Big’ Paul, at a bar during the night, attempting to deal with a group of meth-crazed Goblins, who have hostages – and are dangerous.

After a brief warm-up to let you know that nobody is safe, Markowski soon finds himself in a bit of a situation when a Vampire is killed, a book robbed from the safe that the Vampire was guarding, but with a large amount of money left behind.

And that pops up a question. Who would leave a large amount of money behind, and only take one book?

Well, that’s what Markowski is about to find out, and when the Detective finds out that there are no leads, none at all on this latest case – he’s going to have to resort to the last option. Consult a friendly witch, and raise the dead.

And that is far easier said than done. With the clock ticking, Markowski is going to have to act fast.

Although Hard Spell is one of those novels that could go easily to opposite ends of the spectrum of fantastic books or rubbish books, it’s safe to say, I think – that this is one of those ones where you really should pick this book up. Character development is pretty well thought out, as are the characters. Although what would have been perhaps more interesting and ironic if Markowski was a ‘supe’ himself, Hard Spell manages to pull off a well thought out storyline, with well-crafted dialogue alongside. The world is well developed, and Gustainis avoids bogging down the story by including too much information about the backdrop.

After all, it is basically set in modern-day America, only with the inclusion of the supernatural aspect. Hard Spell manages to make every page fun to read, and there isn’t a single boring aspect of the entire novel.

Maybe we could have seen what other people, I.E his partner and the enemy, think of Markowski and the Occult Crimes Unit, but Gustainis has pulled off this first-person novel really well, ending on a note that will leave you looking forward to the next one, Evil Dark, and with a few sample chapters included at the back, it only makes you want to find out what happens next even more.

The Pacing of this novel is good, as there’s not a dull moment throughout the entire thing, as I mentioned before. James Bond is referenced several times in the three-hundred odd pages, but with one character being a “James Bond nut”, this is hardly surprising.

Anybody who has wanted their favourite TV cop shows to have a bit more on the supernatural side of things will love this book, and indeed – myself being a fan of the L.A. Noire video game, I really enjoyed Hard Spell.

 You can’t go wrong here. Pure brilliance from a writer who knows what he’s doing.

Rating: 4/5

 More Occult Crime Unit Investigations: Hard Spell, Evil Dark (Out 2012)

David Ploss

I’m a bit of an awesome person. :) I’m a semi-famous 40k Intellect and the Business Manager of Chique Geek Entertainment, LLC. www.chiquegeek.com. I’m a book reviewer and the owner of TheFoundingFields.com. Beware my wonky-ness…