Review: Hard Spell

by Justin Gustainis

Angry Robot, out now

Down these mean streets a man must go – and face meth-addicted goblins, vampires, werewolves and many other things that go bump in the night…

Although it may start off with a laugh-aloud alternate history of the 20th Century, Gustainis’ first investigation for the Occult Crimes Unit soon turns horribly serious, and maintains that blend of tones – which is considerably harder to pull off than most people anticipate – throughout. For every revolting death, and there are a large number of these, there’s a throwaway line about ghouls being arrested for indecent exposure, or the “documentary” series True Blood. Just occasionally the hard-boiled cop-speak goes a little over the top, but it can be excused as a coping mechanism by narrator Stan Markowski.

If you enjoy hard-boiled cop stories, of the LA Confidential kind, you’ll get a kick out of the various ways in which the genre is subverted during this story. There’s the gruff boss who backs his men to the hilt; the society dame who won’t believe the truth;  the cop from the neighbouring precinct who doesn’t want our heroes tramping all over his crime scenes  – they’re all present and correct. But certain elements that are givens in that field usually are anything but when you’re dealing with 500-year-old vampires, forbidden cults and a Hellhound named Daisy.

Verdict: Roll on Stan’s next case – particularly given the way his life is changed at the end of this first story!  8/10

Paul Simpson

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