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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review - Hard Spell

This week Ken reviews a rather hard boiled Mike Hammer meets Dragnet mixed with the paranormal.  In this reality vampires, ghouls, goblins, werewolves, and witches all exist and have legal rights.  Ken really got into the spirit of the book (no pun intended) as you will find out.

This is a grittier book than is usually reviewed here with swearing, some gore, and a rough-around-the-edges policeman (Mike Hammer's attitude, even with women), but sometimes it is good to mix it up a little. After all, Halloween is approaching.  Bwa ha ha!  This book will also be one of the offerings in the Spooktacular Blog Hop giveaway at the end of October.

Title:  Hard Spell 

Author:  Justin Gustainis

Copyright:  2011; Angry Robot (distrib. in the U.S. by Random House, Inc.); 382 pgs. 

Sensuality:  Violence, Language, some gore (probably an "R" rating)

Mystery sub-genre:  Police Procedural; Urban Fantasy 

Main Character:  Stanley Markowski, police detective  

Setting:  Present day; Scranton, PA

Obtained book through:  Author for an honest review

He carries a badge.  He’s like Joe Friday (played by Jack Webb) of Dragnet fame (“All we want are the facts, ma’am”) but with a lot more humor that goes along with his dry-wit and heart-felt emotions.  Stanley Markowski is one of Scranton, Pennsylvania’s finest. 

Stan takes us on a “ride-along” as we experience his life as a detective with an extra-ordinary unit.  You see, life is not normal in his world.  He not only carries a badge and a 9mm Beretta but also silver bullets, a crucifix, a few wooden stakes, and some holy water.  Markowski tells us America has been having to deal with the supernatural element for over 50 years, and Scranton has a “live and let unlive” relationship with the supes.  No more just lions and tigers and bears, oh my… More like werewolves, vampires, ghouls, goblins, trolls, and witches.  Some of these supes can be rather sensitive.  Officers must be trained in the proper manner, customs, and protocol to use when dealing with the various species.  For example, it is very important to know when it is okay to use cuss words.

He’s a street-smart detective with the Occult and Supernatural Crimes Investigation Unit – the Supe Squad.  When things go bump in the night or a vamp puts a bit into crime, the savvy and dedicated Supe Squad are the go-to guys and gals.  They’re supported by SWAT; not your typical door bangers with high-powered weapons, this bunch are called the Sacred Weapons and Tactics Unit and their unique arsenal includes splash-bang grenades.

Markowski and his trusted long time partner, Detective Paul di Napoli take a nasty robbery/hostage call involving some meth-head goblins.  SPD consultant and white witch, Rachel Proctor, is called upon to unitize her special skills in ending this situation.  Unfortunately, due to circumstances and a lapse in proper procedure, Paul is killed.  

Stan gets a new partner.  Karl Renfer is an experienced street cop, but an untested new detective.  He strikes me as being kind of like Dragnet’s Bill Gannon (played by Henry Morgan), the witty but intelligent sidekick to Joe Friday.  Karl appears to be a very competent law enforcer, but his courage might be questionable. 

Then the “fun” begins.  They respond to a call reference some Satanists holding sacrifices.   Turns out to be a human sacrifice and demon summoning ritual.  Markowski gets grabbed by a Hell spawn, but Renfer arrives in the nick of time, grabs one of the cultists, and yells, “Here’s dinner, Hellfu(#!”  Stan is saved and any doubt as to Karl’s courage is laid to rest.     

Next they catch a really bad one – a gruesome torture-murder.  It’s unusual in that the victim is a supe.  George Kulick was a wizard.  An open safe, but money left intact.  What was taken?  Who and what really was Mr. Kulick?  After several days of investigation, no leads, no evidence, and no witnesses, the case had reached a dead end.  Only one thing to do – necromancy, which is legal with a court order.  Rachel does the ritual.  It worked…it didn’t work…a wisp of smoke, the outline of a man, then poof!  Rachel collapses.  Magic gone bad?  Rachel in hospital heavily sedated and comatose.  Poof again, and Rachel just disappears.  How, why, where?

The murder investigation continues.  Old and cold Ernst Vollman shows up.  Strange character; claims that Kulick was killed because he was the guardian of an ancient and sacred artifact – the Opus Mago.  A forbidden book containing potentially deadly magic, rituals, and conjurations for invoking and controlling the darkest powers. 

Another murder – ritualistic, sacrificial, occult symbols carved into flesh.  How many more sacrifices will turn up before the killer is run to ground?  What insane ritual is the killer trying to invoke?  For what purpose?   

Some weird informants an other interested parties join the supe soup pot.  There’s the irony of Christine, Markowski’s daughter.  One cannot leave out the Witchfinders – the men in gray.  Where’s Rachel?  

New leads develop-some hinky, some like a slinky, and some like a switchback on a mountain road.  Add some possession (and not of the druggie kind), some hoodoo and woowoo, some rock ‘em and sock ‘em, and you’re brought to one hellistic and ironic conclusion.  But then, you know, the Devil’s definitely in the details.

One great read!  Sam Spade, Mike Hammer, and Dick Tracy better watch out.  Vivid prose with colorful details and gritty descriptions.  Cop talk with some cussing, some bawdy language, some gore.  Fast paced, meaty action and dramatic twists and turns laced with humor.  Many “unique” characters. Magic, mayhem, and spells bouncing all around.  Kicks like a splash-bang grenade!  Justin Gustainis has given us one of the best supernatural cop stories I’ve ever read.   

You know  it wouldn't be complete with a book trailer video (rated PG)!


Because there were the Dragnet references 
I had to share this classic!

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