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Review: Evil Dark by Justin Gustainis

Review: Evil Dark by Justin Gustainis

Guest reviewer Sheryl Tongue writes: Justin Gustainis has a knack for creating characters and situations that are truly creepy and disturbing. In his first book in this series, Hard Spell, he created what I considered two of the creepiest characters that I have seen in print—the Witch Hunters. In the second book, Evil Dark, he's back with a story that may make your skin writhe a bit. It also introduces characters that took my already tenuous faith in the goodness of people and mashed it into a small black hole.

Detective Stanley Markowski and his vampire partner, Detective Karl Renfer, are assigned to cases of demon possession and witch burning (and a few other unpleasant, squirmy subplots). At first these cases seem unrelated, but as the book progresses they meld into a plan to start a "species" war between humans and supernaturals (supes) that will eliminate supes from the Earth so that true and pure humans can exist in a world without contamination. Oh sure, some humans would get killed (quite a lot actually) but with superior numbers on their side, humans would eventually triumph. The comparisons between this new twisted war and the perverse beliefs of Nazis are a slap upside the head for anyone who thought that WWII taught us anything. The "pure human" rhetoric is all too similar to the vitriol often spewed by modern, actual supremist groups.

So why read the books? Because they are well written with good character development, subtle humor (some of it a tiny bit sick), and a plot that is complex and well thought out. There are also references to modern culture that are usually adjusted to account for a world in which the existence of supes has been general knowledge for decades. I found those references pretty funny.

My only complaint is that there were no chapter breaks, although there were scene breaks within the book. For someone like me, who reads when they eat and who stops at the end of a chapter to go back to work, this lack of any clear breaks made it difficult to stop. I somehow managed it though, so the complaint is just a small one.

The hero, Markowski, has a devious mind combined with a willingness to pretzel the rules. Because he is the narrator of the book, the reader gets to know him pretty well. On the surface he seems to be a hard, cool cop, albeit with principles, but his thoughts reveal him to be man tortured by things he has had to do and a rather gushy–soft interior. I mean, the man has a hamster for a pet after all. I found him to be a person I would like to know—as long as he didn't tell me about some of the things he has had to deal with on the job. Renfer, actually the funnier of the two, is also a good man but you never get to know him as well as you do Markowski. Combined with several good secondary characters, they keep the book interesting and moving.

Gustainis is adept at wily writing so that it's a surprise when a character that seems bad turns out to be good. That isn't easy to do without telegraphing and I appreciated the skill involved. And no, I won't tell you who is not bad, they're just written that way. You'll have to read the book to find out.

Good character development is extremely important. I find it difficult to get lost in a book in which I don't like anybody. I have read books lately that, while being very well written, focus more on despicable characters. I leave the pages feeling dirty for having read them (even while I appreciate the skill with which they were created) and will never return to those books again. But I will return to Markowski and Renfer. It will be like visiting old friends I haven't seen in a few years. Why don't you join the party? If you like supernatural detective stories with 3D characters and inventive plots, you'll have a great time.

Sheryl Tongue

Order your copy of Evil Dark from Amazon UK

Posted Jun 25, 2012   
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