Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis. Or PI-UF camp.

Hard Spell
Recommended for: fans of A.Martinez
Read on September 16, 2012
★ ★ ★

So I’m perusing the shelves of the half-price bookstore and happen to find Hard Spell, which I was pretty sure was on my TBR list under a special category for some reason. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember why. Was it because the author was a troll? Because a librarian said it kicked butt? Because it was the next best thing since sliced Harry Potter? I took the risk, bought it and as soon as I was home, checked my GoodReads TBR list.


The answers were no, no, and most certainly no.

But it was fun, in a campy, Magnum P.I. sort of way. The kind of way where some of it’s predictable, some of the characters are a little cut-out, and a lot of it is downright hokey, but still, enough action and fun to suck me in. Alright, I confess: I was avoiding a paper as well. But still.

It begins with a detective Stan Markowski in the Supernatural Division sloppily breaking up a demon-summoning, requiring heroic measures from rookie partner. The duo next get called to a back-alley killing where the victim has mysterious symbols carved in his head. Oh, and he’s a vampire–we can tell because there are fangs when they lift the upper lip. Our hero hates vamps. I’m sure there’s a backstory here that will be revealed to the new partner in due time (eyeroll). At the scene, a mysterious gentleman appears who seems to know almost everything about the case, but wants information. In order to trade, he points them in a couple of directions (“check the forensics on the wound for the type of instrument.” No, really?) It turns out he’s Master of the City supernatural in chief, or The Man, as our team decides to call him. (Calling the head bad guy “The Man” was a plot used in Alias, in the guest episode with Quentin Tarantino, so all I could think about it when they said it was Quentin in a suit saying “The Man wants…” ) The Man gives them almost nothing else useful (clearly withholding information), but at least he knows how to use AOL Instant Messenger to get a hold of them later (I told you it was campy fun!). Which reminds me of another silly scene: our hero going through his voicemail step by step. Yes, you read that right. Including dialogue from VM prompt lady, which is truly annoying when I have to listen to it, never mind read it. No chuckles there, Gustainis.

Since this is a hard-boiled detective story, there’s a mandatory stop in a lesbian bar to ogle a woman tell a vamp who has been putting the whammy on the clientele to lay low. They scare her off by mentioning The Man. While our heroes wonder in passing why such a hot beauty needs to use vamp hypnotism, they consider it adequate proof that The Man does in fact wield power among the supernaturals.

There is also the requisite attempts on the lives of the detectives, first by car-dash hula girl Medusa, which is the best booby (haha!) trap ever. There’s a (ghoul) informant, and a source that doesn’t want to share information until they save his life, for which they gratefully endanger him again (of course!). There’s the required hard-ass Captain who does just about everything but asks for their shields, until he changes his mind and gives them full and unconditional support, including a magic key (well, not majick, as Richard would say, but it does open the SWAT lockers).

I confess, I loved the supernatural SWAT team, especially the hellhound and her handler. That deserved a star right there. I liked the self-referential black sharpshooter (“Don’t you read the comics, man? You ever see a bunch of badass superheroes like this without a brother on the crew?”) who went to Ivy League schools.

My one serious note of appreciation is how Gustainis was willing to have Stan make some hard choices with some emotional fallout. I expected one of them and was surprised by the last, so that’s the kind of thing that levitates the plot a few inches above it’s competition. For a campy book, it does a nice job of balancing the emotion with the action.

Although some reviews claim both sexism and vulgarity, I have to say I didn’t find it particularly offensive, perhaps because this is a book that is hard to take seriously. And perhaps because Stan’s kind of sexism reminds me of someone’s aging dad–a little bit oinkish but ultimately scared respectful of women, as evidenced by his behavior with the female detective of a neighboring town. Likewise, the accusation of extreme swearing–I thought the epithets were extreme strictly for the outrageousness–it’s a cop book, right? So they’ve got to swear.

Occasionally, I had the nagging feeling I was reading an as seen on tv! book–you know, the kind that starts life as a tv show until someone decides to make a buck extending the universe into print. I’m not really complaining, though–I’d watch this show, which I presume is a little bit like NYPD Blue meets True Blood, if only NYPD was in a small city in Pennsylvania, and no sex was involved. Okay, so maybe I’d watch the first few episodes, or at least until the network cancelled it.

And if I had a paper to write.

Three tongue-in-cheek stars.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, fantasy, Urban fantasy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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