book review: Hard Spell

I’m not sure how many people are fans of both urban fantasy AND Law and Order: SVU, but–as one of these rare hybrids–I appreciate the book I just finished reading.

Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis (published by Angry Robot) is a fast-paced crime thriller with the same “We’re running down this perp, now we’re across town following up on a lead” feel to it as the oh-so-popular police dramas that fill network TV.

Except there’s vampires and werewolves.  And wizards.  Badass spells and bloodsuckers.  And the best part about it?

Main character Stan Markowski ain’t one of’em.

Markowski is just your average foul-mouthed detective packing alternating rounds of garlic-dipped and Bishop-blessed bullets.  He works for the “Supe Squad,” a division of the Scranton PD that handles Supernaturals.  And not just hunting them down.

That’s right, buddy, vampires have rights too.  Got a problem with that?

Hard Spell has a little of everything:  conspiracy, horror, comedy, sex appeal, lampshading, alternate history, and meth-addicted goblins.

You heard me.

It also has one of the coolest characters I’ve ever read:  a wizard/vampire named Vollman who is the head of the Supernatural syndicate.  An eloquently verbose godfather of the underworld, if you will.

My issues with Hard Spell are few and far between.  Readers should be warned that this book doesn’t hold back in terms of swearing and gore.  This is a prime-time, R-rated rundown, to be sure.  I mean, it’s like “Sacrifice City” in there.

Also, all the women in the novel come across as sexy badasses–not necessarily a bad thing.  While I found it a little distracting at times, it did fit with  Markowski’s, ahem, rap sheet.  Since the book is told through his first-person perspective, this vision of women stays true to character.  We’ve all met ‘that guy’ that can find something sexy about any female, right?

This combination of no-holds-barred grittiness and a POV that never steps out of bounds adds to the realism.  I know from experience that a first-person adventure can prove difficult to sustain, but Gustainis nails it.  Every one-liner, every conversation, every cuss word gives you that smooth, along-for-the-ride feel.  You might as well be in the backseat of Markowski’s car.  Every blow makes you wince.

You will feel like a cop.

A cop that busts up paranormal drug rings and has seen a fair share of vamp fangs.

All in all, Hard Spell is a powerful first installment in a promising new series.  The finale of this book sets up storyline you won’t want to miss!

Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis hits shelves (and e-shelves) July 26th, 2011.


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