Review: Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis

I love the “shelving instructions” that come with Angry Robot books. In the case of Hard Spell it says file under:

  • urban fantasy
  • Dial V For Vampire
  • Forbidden Spells
  • Bite Club
  • Scranton By Night

I was playing L.A. Noire while I read this, and I’m a major fan of CSI and similar similar procedurals. Hard Spell works very well in this context. Murders, crime scenes, theft, interrogations, informants, and pretty much everything you’d expect. It’s a story well told and a compelling mystery. And that’s before we discuss the urban fantasy elements. If this is going to be “An Occult Crimes Unit Investigation,” there have to be fantasy elements.

We’re quickly brought up to speed about how the vampires, werewolves and other old world fantasy creatures made their way to the new world, and Scranton, Pennsylvania in particular. After the initial introduction these elements are woven rather seamlessly into the story. Magic in and of itself isn’t a crime (not every character agrees with this), but anything that harms others is just as illegal in this world as in ours. The plot involves forbidden magic and its horrifying collateral damage. However, the process of solving the crime involves fairly standard police work. Our narrator specializes in crimes by and against the supernatural. I get the vibe of Law and Order: SVU. The people that work this desk are viewed apprehensively by other cops, but respected – both by their colleagues and those they protect.

Munition choices are a bit more interesting. Interpersonal relationships are complicated by magic. Demonic possession is an acceptable legal defense. Witch hunters, cultists and internal affairs all complicate things. The final confrontation successfully ramps up all elements of the story. It feels very earned – all the pieces falling into place.

The main character is NOT incredibly forthcoming about himself, but his relationship with his partner, his daughter, his coworkers and others flesh out someone that I wouldn’t mind following for a few more books. Each of those other characters has plenty of room to grow as well. Scranton seems to be a city very much of our times and I look forward to more detail in upcoming books.

~ by mentatjack on August 7, 2011.

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