I loved reading Hard Spell, Book #1 in the Occult Crime Unit Investigation series, so much that I could hardly wait for Evil Dark, Book #2, to come out. Justin Gustainis has created a fun paranormal crime/mystery series featuring a snarky detective who I get a real kick out of. I believe Evil Dark will work well as a stand-alone novel. This one is likely to appeal to anyone who likes hard-boiled detective stories, mysteries, paranormal novels, and/or a blend of all three.
Our review of Hard Spell is at the end of this review for those of you who haven’t read it. Obviously there will be spoilers for that novel in this review, although I’ve tried to limit them as much as possible.
A little background: At the end of World War II, soldiers brought a little something extra back with them from the war. In the approximately 50 years since then, the population has had to adjust to the knowledge that supernaturals (supes) of all kinds walk among them. Vampires, goblins, ghouls, werewolves, you name it, it’s out there walking around now. To some extent the supes have become accepted, or at least tolerated, as long as they obey the laws like everyone else.
“The city is Scranton. My name’s Markowski. I carry a badge. The monsters from your nightmares are real, all of them. If you live in my town, protecting you from them – and vice versa – is my job.”
Stan Markowski is a detective in the Scranton, PA police department’s supernatural crimes investigation unit, a.k.a. the Supe Squad. When he left work this afternoon, he had no idea he’d have to talk a suicidal fairy named Butch down off of a ledge.
“’Uh, Butch, I couldn’t help but notice that your wings have been, um…’
‘Amputated. Removed. Hacked off, is that what you are trying to say?’
‘Something like that. If you don’t mind my asking, does that have anything to do with your present…predicament?’
‘It has everything to do with it,’ he moaned…
‘Forgive a dumb question, but your wings will grow back, won’t they?’
‘Yes, in a year – perhaps two. But the shame is eternal – that, and the loss forever of the one I love.’
Sounded like fairies were as fucked up as humans – just with [a] fancier vocabulary.”
“’Jesus, Stan, what the fuck happened to you?’
‘Went flying with a fairy,’ I said. ‘Trouble is, neither one of us had wings.’”
Markowski has mixed feelings about supes but he’s never particularly liked blood-suckers. That’s unfortunate because recently both his partner, Karl, and his daughter, Christine, were turned into vampires. There’s nothing like realizing something you thought you detested is family and/or your best friend to turn your petty prejudices on their ear. Markowski even shops for gourmet blood bags at Vlad-Mart as take-out for Christine.
Much to everyone’s dismay in the police department, the FBI have come to town in the form of Agents Greer and Thorwald. That’s never a good thing. These two agents give new meaning to stiff as a board, even if they are 100% human.
“As we walked toward the parking lot, Karl asked me, ‘Do you suppose there’s a special course at the FBI Academy called How to be a Federal Douche Bag?’
‘Wouldn’t surprise me,’ I said. ‘And if there is, I’m betting that Greer aced it. Probably the only A he ever earned.’
Someone is making brutal black-market supernatural snuff films. This trail of crimes the FBI agents want to discuss is particularly nasty since it involves demonic possession. Once the demon is summoned, it possesses one of two people tied to chairs. It then uses that person to torture the other person in a very messy and horrifying way until that person ultimately dies. When the FBI shows one of the films to the detectives, two hardened cops have to leave the room. The FBI agents believe the films are being shot in Scranton.
“What happened next went from zero to unspeakable in a very few seconds. Soon afterward, it went beyond unspeakable, to a level of horror that there are no words to describe…Twelve very long minutes later, the blond man gave one last, agonized scream and escaped into death. We sat there and watched him die.
Then somebody must have pressed stop, because the screen went mercifully dark. A few seconds later, the lights came on. The nine people [left] in the room sat in stunned silence, blinking in the sudden brightness…My partner Karl leaned toward me and said softly, ‘Sweet Jesus Christ on a pogo stick. And people say vampires are inhuman.’”
And, as if that’s not enough, someone is burning witches and targeting other supes again. Could the two types of crimes be connected? The fun just never stops. Homicide cases begin multiplying in Scranton like bloody bunnies in the night. There seems no way to catch up much less stop them. Could the same humans-only hate group be behind both types of crimes?
The team soon realizes that someone powerful in Scranton is very invested in keeping the money flowing and will stop at nothing to ensure that happens. Everyone on the team is in danger, along with their families. Markowski is terrified something will happen to Karl or Christine.
Gustainis is very adept at creating male characters. For example, Markowski and Karl have a bantering relationship that makes this series a lot of fun. There’s a lot of depth to Markowski’s character in particular, which I really like. I’m not totally thrilled with the female character development; however, I do believe their characters are very much in keeping with the old-style hard-boiled detective vibe of this series. For that reason, I’m okay with how they’re portrayed.
Evil Dark crosses the line into horror with demonic torture. It felt like a much darker novel than Hard Spell, with a bit less banter and a few more OMG moments. Because of the nature of the crimes in this second book, it may not be for some of you with vivid imaginations but very weak stomachs. I fall just a bit into that category but I’ve read enough novels with nasty demons in them that I knew what to expect. Still, I was thankful the torture scenes were brief. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a fan of the Occult Crime Unit Investigation series and I’m looking forward to Book #3.
To read our review of Hard Spell, Book #1 in the Occult Crime Unit Investigation Series, click here.
Can’t wait to read it?
Evil Dark was published on April 24, 2012, so it should be available from your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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