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Hard Spell - Justin Gustainis This is the city--Scranton, Pennsylvania.
It’s a good place to live and raise a family--apart from vampires, werewolves, ghouls, wizards, and the occasional demon.
Scranton’s got a “live and let unlive” relationship with the supernatural, just like everyplace else. But when a vamp puts the bit on an unwilling victim, or some witch casts the wrong kind of spell, that’s when they call me.
My name’s Markowski. I carry a badge.
Also a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets.
I was never a Boy Scout, but “Be Prepared” is still a good motto to live by. Especially if you plan to keep on living.

You can hear Joe Friday’s voice from the old TV series Dragnet every time Detective Stan Markowski opens his mouth. The tough guy platitudes that are sprinkled throughout just about every conversation in this book are ones we have all heard and dare I say might be on purpose as a Justin Gustainis nod to a bygone era of pulp magazines and tough guy TV shows.

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Jack Webb is Joe Friday

Markowski works for the Occult Crimes Unit Investigation department. A department that gets a lot of latitude given the nature of the cases they are asked to investigate. Anything involving Supes (Supernatural) lands on Markowski’s desk. When vampires start showing up dead by creative means and have ancient symbols carved into their bodies he is of two minds about the case. On the one hand “the only good vampire is a dead vampire”, but on the other hand there is the nagging concern that even though the undead are the victims it is still happening in Markowski’s city and he does carry the badge.

The case is messy from the start. Markowski’s partner at the beginning of book is killed by an enraged knife wielding Goblin going through the DTs of meth addiction. His new partner Karl Renfer is one of those people blessed with the ability to read people and say the right things at the right time. He handles Markowski’s mood swings from acerbic to well more acerbic with a dash of humor that relieves some of the pressures of a case that seems to be going from bad to worse.

They have to accept the help of a 500 year old vampire who happens to be a very rare species indeed. He is also a wizard. Vollman comes across as a tame, cultured creature, but when Stan pushes him too hard his true nature, that darkness that has replaced his soul, uncoils.

Vollman raised his head and looked at me. He didn’t seem to change expression, but I was suddenly very aware that I was sitting opposite a five hundred year-old monster who’s probably killed more people than I’ve had meals.

Gustainis populates the novel with characters that really give the novel a bit more depth. There is a ghoul informant that has a brother who likes to flash his weiner at unsuspecting women. Markowski offers to help keep his brother out of jail, yet again, for information. I guess in the greater scheme of things, in Scranton, a weiner swinging ghoul is the least of their worries.

There is a SWAT team an acronym for The Sacred Weapons and Tactics Unit. I can only hope that Gustainis gets this group more involved with the plot in the next novel.
They have a HELLHOUND.
Named DAISY.
How cool is that?

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Nice puppy...oh what a pretty puppy you are Daisy

Karl’s cousin Heidi is a member with attributes not necessary useful to her job, but despite the handicap of “formidable breasts” she is quite capable of kicking any Supe or Human ass that gets in her way. There is a Jesuit named Garrett packing a flamethrower and Shiro Kyotake a edged-weapons specialist along with several other highly trained and specialized members that would be interesting to see utilized in future books.

Rachel Proctor is a witch employed by the department. Markowski, out of leads, convinces her to help him raise the spirit of one of the dead again vampires to find out who killed them. This has disastrous results when she is taken over by the spirit of a malicious, vindictive wizard vampire. Markowski packing plenty of guilt from his life already, stacks on a bit more.

There are a pair of Inquisition loving preachers who are moonlighting as witch hunters. If I had been Markowski I would have introduced that duo to Daisy.

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Creepy witch hunting preacher x 2.

There is a Lacey Brennan an occult crimes detective from nearby town that is brought into the case. She is not only gorgeous, but also shows a decided interest in getting to know Markowski more intimately. She starts every conversation with a stale joke along the lines of How many vampires does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

I was never bored. Gustainis keeps the pages turning and has built a world with potential to just keep getting better and better with each new novel. This is an Angry Robot book, the second I’ve read in about a month. With a compelling plot, a nice array of window dressing characters, and a world that I wouldn’t mind spending some time in as long as I have my .9mm, my crucifix, my wooden stakes, and maybe for just a little extra insurance Buffy Summers as my travelling partner.

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What review isn't improved with a picture of Michelle Gellar? My Scranton traveling companion of choice.

I will definitely be checking out the second book in the series. Recommended for a stress reducer, or if you are fighting the flu, or if you just want a break from an unpleasant task.