Customer Reviews for

Hard Spell: An Occult Crimes Unit Investigation

Average Rating 4.5
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

An Old Fashioned Supernatural Crime Story!

This was a fun and entertaining read from beginning to end. Imagine a world where civil rights are extended to all, no matter your sex, race, religion, or if you are living or one of the undead. Justin Gustainis has created a world where humans and the supernatural coex...
This was a fun and entertaining read from beginning to end. Imagine a world where civil rights are extended to all, no matter your sex, race, religion, or if you are living or one of the undead. Justin Gustainis has created a world where humans and the supernatural coexist. The main character is Stan Markowski, a cop on the supe (supernatural) squad. He handles cases that involve crimes committed by or committed against supernatural beings (Vampires, werewolves, witches, goblins etc).

For me this book had an old school crime novel feel to it, which I loved. Add the fact that it's full of supernatural beings (some law abiding some not so much), and you end up with a familiar yet new take on crime novels and life in general. Written with humor and suspense, I found the plot action packed and fast paced but a little predictable. Even though some of the destinations were predictable, the journey getting there certainly wasn't. As I was reading Hard Spell I found myself thinking this would make an interesting movie or, better yet, a weekly series*.

This book does contain strong language and violence, with that warning I would recommend it to anyone.

*Hint for the SyFy channel.

posted by Felonious on August 13, 2011

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

Review

Um don't expect much.

posted by Pencil0 on June 9, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2012

    Review

    Um don't expect much.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 20, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Action Packed!

    Scranton is a good place to raise a family with a ¿live and let unlive¿ relationship with its vampires, werewolves, ghouls, wizards and occasional demons. When the supernatural element gets out of control, Stan Markowski will be hot on their trail. American as a whole has been coming to terms with the supernaturals and it has been a bumpy ride. Scranton is a hotbed for the supernatural community because of all the intersecting ley lines. Markowski and his partner Paul di Napoli, as part of The Occult and Supernatural Crimes Investigation Unit, deals with meth-head goblins and others on a daily basis. Sometimes and it can go very wrong which it did one night and the result is Paul¿s death.

    Now Markowski is put with a newbi, Karl Renfer, and together they are out spelling zombies and crashing occult summoning rituals. On one such run, Renfer proves himself to Markowski by saving his life. Now, they must work together because there is a big bad spell being worked on from the Opus Mago and it involves five sacrifices and the body count is already climbing. When they try to have their local witch, Rachel Proctor, summon the wizard originally entrusted (and murdered) with the Opus Mago, the wizard possesses Rachel and is out for his own revenge against his torturer.

    Loved the CSI/Supernatural old time detective theme. Markowski is a tough detective but as you learn more about him, you find out that he is a complicated man with mixed emotions about supernaturals (his daughter is a vampire). Storyline keeps moving and there are twists that keep the reader¿s interest. Justin Gustainsis did a superb job in crafting all his characters and I look forward to reading Evil Dark when it is released. If you love a hard nose detective novel but want a mixture of the creature factor, Hard Spell is a good read for you.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    An Old Fashioned Supernatural Crime Story!

    This was a fun and entertaining read from beginning to end. Imagine a world where civil rights are extended to all, no matter your sex, race, religion, or if you are living or one of the undead. Justin Gustainis has created a world where humans and the supernatural coexist. The main character is Stan Markowski, a cop on the supe (supernatural) squad. He handles cases that involve crimes committed by or committed against supernatural beings (Vampires, werewolves, witches, goblins etc).

    For me this book had an old school crime novel feel to it, which I loved. Add the fact that it's full of supernatural beings (some law abiding some not so much), and you end up with a familiar yet new take on crime novels and life in general. Written with humor and suspense, I found the plot action packed and fast paced but a little predictable. Even though some of the destinations were predictable, the journey getting there certainly wasn't. As I was reading Hard Spell I found myself thinking this would make an interesting movie or, better yet, a weekly series*.

    This book does contain strong language and violence, with that warning I would recommend it to anyone.

    *Hint for the SyFy channel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A very good start to a new series

    Hard Spell is the first book in the Occult Crimes Unit Investigations series by Justin Gustainis. I've read a lot of books recently that include some sort of supernatural crime investigation unit - either with humans policing supernaturals, with supernaturals as police/law enforcement or both. I have not read anything quite like this. While I am not an expert on noir, Hard Spell is definitely noirish. Stan Markowski, the main character, is fairly hard-boiled, he's got an air of desperation about him for a variety of reasons which become clear in the novel. The novel also pays homage in its way to Dragnet (a police procedural radio then TV show starring Jack Webb). I loved this element in the book. Essentially, however, this is an Urban Fantasy police procedural with noir elements. And it's a very good Urban Fantasy. Hard Spell is set in an alternate Scranton, Pennsylvania, which I believe is a first. I learned some things from the book: Scranton is in an area of Pennsylvania called the Wyoming Valley. I also learned some slang indigenous to that area. Learning new things is always a plus for me in a book. I like the main character Stan Markowski a lot. The story is told from his point of view. He's not a typical hero by any means. He's is a good cop though he stretches the rules here and there. His partner, Karl Renfer, makes a perfect foil for Stan. Stan and Karl work for the Occult and Supernatural Crimes Investigation Unit, which is nicknamed the "SupeSquad." The police procedural elements are well done. You can tall that Mr. Gustainis did his homework, but he does not bog down the book with too many procedural details. I really like some of the secondary characters in the book, even some of the creepy and scary ones. The SWAT team is really great. Read the book to find out what SWAT means in this instance. This is a fast moving book with terrific pacing. Stan and Karl deal with several crimes while also trying to figure out the big mystery surrounding some interrelated crimes. The book moves towards the ultimate showdown while skillfully weaving together several intersecting plot lines. The ending surprised me a bit, but in a good way. The language can be a bit coarse at times, but it suits the tone of the book. There are some moments that made me laugh and/or smile. For example, you reach the SupeSquad by dialing "666." That actually makes a lot of sense. This is a very good start to a new series, and I'm looking forward to the next book. I give Hard Spell 4 Qwills.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Dark urban fantasy meets detective noir

    Scranton Pennsylvania is a good town full of tough people who take care of themselves--except when some supernatural creature steps out of line, in which case they call on folks like Detective Stan Markowski. Supernaturals or "supes" are very common in the US, and the guys on Scranton's Supernatural Crimes Investigation Unit are perfectly used to dealing with dramatic supe crimes. Sometimes it's something basic like vampire-on-human violence or a brawl between wizards, and sometimes the SCIU has to deal with really weird and wild cases--you don't even want to know how they have to deal with meth-addicted goblins who try to knock over liquor stores. But even the experienced Markowski might just be in over his head when he gets called in to investigate a wizard homicide and a secret book that has gone missing.

    Markowski has a lot of burdens to deal with. After loses his old partner and gets paired with Karl Renfer, a young guy with a cloudy record, he's still shadowed by the guilt of thinking that he could have saved his partner. Then when Rachel Proctor, the department's witch-in-residence, disappears after trying to help Markowski solve his mysterious murder case, he feels responsible for getting her involved in a potentially deadly venture. Markowski's not a goody-goody sort of cop, and he doesn't have a lot of lofty ideals, but I do like his down-to-earth sense of responsibility and general decency, despite the rough world he lives in. It's hard to read books that have an emotionally tortured main character, but a guy with a some worries and regrets is very realistic, and as his murder case spirals into a serial-killing case, he keeps his act together pretty well.


    There are a lot of things to appreciate about this book. Hard Spell has that nice, noir-ish feel, with narration delivered less like the fantasy-fueled Harry Dresden and more like Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon. It's nice to see urban fantasy filtered through the lens of a harboiled detective story, and Markowski's narrative voice is very beguiling. I want to watch this guy and see what he does next. I also liked that Markowski avoids needless violence and tries not to abuse his power, except in the rare cases that he's pushed past his limits, like when his partner is stabbed to death.

    There were only a few downsides, for me. 1. The story seemed episodic early on. It was one supernatural crime followed by another, and I was wondering which crime was going to be the one that lead to the bigger mystery or the overall plot. 2. It's a very gruesome book at points, so readers who go for lighter urban fantasy should take note that it's closer to Sin City than to a nice, adventurous werewolf story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 22, 2011

    Its a real honest to goodness Detective story!

    When I first got this book in the mail, one look at the cover and the voice of Dan Aykroyd from Dragnet (1987) popped in my head - and THAT is the voice of Stan :)

    This book is awesome! It starts off explaining the way the Supernatural's (Supes) came to be known to the world (when Vamps and Were's came home from WW II ) and now living in an everyday life with the rest of us plain old humans .

    Stan Markowski is a human - and he's a Decective - but he keeps the peace between the Supes.

    The book starts off with Stan and his partner going into a local liquor store - nothing strange, just a couple of goblins hyped up on Meth with 2 hostages trying to rob the place.

    *note* these Goblins are really cute :) Little green furry guys who speak very little English - so hearing Stan speak like Tarzan is really funny :)

    Everything seems to be going well, until they notice the third goblin that was hiding from them...

    A few weeks later, Stan and his new partner Renfer... Karl Renfer (He's a big James bond Fan :) Anyways - they get a call and head out to an old abandoned warehouse - Karl stays in the car while Stan checks it out - inside he finds 13 witches calling forth a demon - which is considered black magic - and black magic is illegal. SO when Stan jumps in to interrupt, things get a little crazy.

    A few months later ... they get a call to a Supe's house - where they find a man tied to a chair after he was tortured to death. At first they didn't understand why they were called out - looked like a normal human's death - something for the police to get involved in, only this guy had a mark of a wizard on his wrist - which meant the crime was for them to get involved in.

    For 5 full nights - Stan and Karl came up empty handed with no leads as to why this Wizard was tortured - and what was stolen out of his safe (They left the money, so obviously something of more value was in the safe)

    Stan finally had about all he could handle and decided to call in a favor. Rachel Proctor is a witch - and she knows how to perform Necromancy - Only Necromancy is black magic, and she just doesn't do that stuff. But with the court's ok - making it Police business, it turns into Grey Magic - black magic used for good.

    Against all of Rachel's better instincts, she agrees to it.

    It takes her a full day of non-stop preparations for this type of thing. When She and Stan get to the graveyard to set up, everything was going perfect... Until something goes wrong.. very very VERY Wrong.

    The plot thickens when we find out what was stolen out of the safe and Stan and Karl are forced to work with Vollman "The Man" of Vampires who happens to be a Wizard as well. He knows a lot of things that is going on. and when the strange and bazaar killings start to accrue, Vollman starts keeping little important things to himself. So Stan decides to broaden his search and find information himself. He has a lot of good contacts :)

    It was a lot of fun reading this book :)

    For the record, this isn't a romance book - Rachel was just a friend, and he has a couple of other female friends in the book, too but nothing but a few flirtation remarks accure. and I Love Stan's Humor - He's got a LOT of funny come backs (in his mind)

    All and all this is a great book :) Glad I got the chance to read it :)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2014

    Good series

    I very much enjoyed this series and wish there were more than three books.

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  • Posted May 27, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    In a world where the paranormal is just another dark part of nor

    In a world where the paranormal is just another dark part of normal, cops will surely need a specialized crime squad to deal with magic and myth. Author Justin Gustainis provides just the team, with Detective Stan Markowski , who carries badge and crucifix, wooden stakes and more. SWAT team takes on a whole new meaning (Sacred Weapons and Tactics) but works the same way, and violence and politics continue their underhand agreements, just as in the real world. Just read the Scranton Times-Tribune and see.

    The (imaginative) swearing will either offend or amuse. But the story will keep any fans of the Dresden Files or other urban fantasies happily engaged in a well-drawn world, with well-timed secrets, convincing narrative voice, and a gleeful mix of mystery, detective work, modern gadgets and spiritual powers.

    Hard Spell is a fast-flowing story with great characters, cool scares, and an enjoyable depth. Tongue in cheek, stake in heart, gory disaster and pleasing hope—it doesn’t dwell too long in any one place, but pulls the reader on through the streets of Scranton to a place where the whole world might change. I can’t wait to read more.

    Disclosure: The author kindly gave me a free ecopy and I love it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2014

    Interesting book

    So glad i got a chance to read this I could not put it down I didnt even want to put it down to sleep last night Cant wait to read the next one which i shall start shortly

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  • Posted March 15, 2013

    Justin Gustainis has a gritty, engaging style, with likeable cha

    Justin Gustainis has a gritty, engaging style, with likeable characters and not so subtle humor. A fun and quick read, it will leave you wanting more.

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  • Posted July 6, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Detective Stan Markowski and his partner, Karl Renfer, have bee


    Detective Stan Markowski and his partner, Karl Renfer, have been called out to a crime scene but it’s not your run of the mill crime scene. These cops are part of the Scranton, PA, Occult Crimes Unit which was set up to handle crimes involving the local supernatural community, folks known to Stan and Karl as “supes”. In this case, a wizard has been tortured to death to make him give up a crucial artifact and then vampires begin to be murdered—yes, the undead can be murdered. They discover that these crimes are not limited to Scranton and that a very, very bad wizard with evil intentions may be involved.

    Amongst all this are meth head goblins, white and black and gray witches and assorted demons of the hungry sort.

    Adding to the problem is the fact that Stan has a personal attachment to the supernatural world, an attachment caused by a deliberate and extremely difficult choice he made in the past, and the wrong move could prove to be devastating. Stan and Karl (who has a penchant for all things James Bond), with a little help from some friends and more than a bit of hindrance from a pair of distinctly unpleasant witchfinders, have to pull out their usual weapons—crosses, silver bullets, wooden stakes and holy water—and get into some heavyduty detecting. The final outcome will almost certainly be deadly but to whom?

    There was one thing I didn’t particularly care for in this story and that’s the fairly lightweight roles given to the females (although they don’t need to be kickbutt, a little more self-reliance would be nice) . Having said that, Hard Spell was really enjoyable for its blend of humor and horror. I also appreciated the characterization of the supes as being generally badass with an occasional sense of honor, none of this cutesy stuff so prevalent these days in urban fantasy. Gustainis also has developed the characters of Stan and Karl enough so I really liked them and cared what happened to them but he hasn’t overdone it—there is more to be learned in the next book.

    There is some strong language and the violence is not for the faint of heart but neither of those elements bothered me, probably because I expect them in a noirish novel. When all is said and done, I strongly recommend Hard Spell and I’m looking forward to the next book. After all, who can resist a SWAT (Sacred Weapons and Tactics) team hellhound named Daisy?

    By the way, don’t call 911 for a supe emergency—dial 666.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2012

    Just do it

    Im really loving this book!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2012

    Outstanding!!!

    Every bit as good as his other series with Morris and Chastain. I love urban fantasy and this is an example of the of the best. No romance or any other of the usual crap that is seen in so msny other paranormal or urban fantasy books. Great characters, action and suspense. I highly recommend both of Mr. Gustainis's series. Very well done.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2011

    A good read

    I'm impressed at the well written plot and the development of the characters! I honestly cant't wait to find out what the next installment has in store for the Supe Squad!

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  • Posted October 19, 2011

    Awesome!

    I couldn't put it down. Really enjoy it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 1, 2011

    Série Noire! Anomalous! Paranormal Crime Buster!

    Série Noire! Anomalous! Paranormal Crime Buster! Welcome to Scranton, your tour guide will be Det. Stan Markowski, you will be led through the dark, shadowy world of Scranton crime. Stan Markowski will speak to you, he will draw you into his world, a world that is extrinsic and fascinating. Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis makes you believe in an alternate world of weirdoes. HS is full of facetiousness with specks of pop culture. Justin's hold on detail and his ability to draw in the reader is what makes this book a keeper. Gustainis has brought us a new urban fantasy with a noiresque crime world. Hard Spell was a deviation from my usual fare of urban fantasy, but I'm so glad I chose to to take a bite. I really look forward to book 2.

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  • Posted July 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    This is the book I've been waiting for.

    I love mysteries, and I also love the modern vampire/werewolf/witch books that are popular right now. But I haven't been a fan of the books that have tried to combine the genres. This book does it right. The mystery is nice and complex, and the supernatural characters are suitably supernatural.

    A good solid read, lots of fun.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2011

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    Posted October 8, 2012

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    Posted December 24, 2011

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