Thursday, August 11, 2011

100 Books 42 - Justin Gustainis' HARD SPELL

Genre mash-ups seem to be all the rage these days, and Justin Gustainis' Hard Spell is a perfect example of how to do them right. Take out the police procedural/crime elements and it still works as a tale of supernatural mayhem; take out the supernatural elements and it still works as a detective story. I suspect achieving this balance was a lot harder than it looks.

Hard Spell, the first in a new Occult Crimes Unit Investigation series, pits a pair of hard-bitten detectives, Stan Markowski and Karl Renfer, against a one-two punchin' combo of a wizard/vampire hybrid who is racing to assemble the elements for the ultimate everybody's-doomed spell. They're old hands at dealing with this kind of thing, if not to this degree; they pack silver bullets, their handcuffs are made with cold iron, they tend to have some holy water handy, their department keeps a witch on retainer as a special consultant, but this Big Bad is the Biggest Big Bad to ever hit the exceptionally supernatural-ridden city of Scranton, PA.  At least until the next book.

What sells me on this one is this: Gustainis has been at great pains to interweave the supernatural -- not just vampires and witches but also werewolves, hobgoblins (the opening scene in which Markowski has to deal with a bunch of methamphetamine-addled goblins robbing a liquor store is hilarious) and the rest of the canon -- with the mundane. And for the most part it's subtle; enough to make me smile but not enough to jerk me completely out of my reading trance to cry out "I see what you did there!"

Haters will probably say "Oh, it's just like Harry Dresden, except with cops," and they wouldn't be entirely off base. But why should that be an issue? Jim Butcher writes fun books, and so does Gustainis, and there is room on the shelf for both, just like there is room at the corner stop-and-rob for M&Ms and Reese's Pieces: because you're never sure what flavor of brain candy you'll be in the mood for until you start browsing.

I suspect Justainis will keep cranking these out for as long as people are willing to buy them; the formula is dead easy and the ground as well laid by the Dashiell Hammets and Raymond Chandlers and Joseph Wambaughs as by the H.P. Lovecrafts and Clarke Ashton-Smiths and William Hope Hodgsons of the world. All Justainis has to do is raise up a crop, play Mendel and mix up the genes.

Fun stuff!

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