Justin Gustainis

Books: Fantasy | Mystery | Editor

Occult Crimes Unit: Hard Spell (2011), Evil Dark (2012), Known Devil (2014)

Quincy Morris and Libby Chastain: Black Magic Woman (2008), Sympathy for the Devil (2011)


Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives (2011), Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations (2013)

Occult Crimes Unit

Hard Spell (2011)

Hard Spell

Stan Markowski is a Detective on the Scranton Police Supernatural Crimes Investigation Unit–they investigate crimes involving witches and vampires and other supernatural beings.

Cops on the Supe Squad spend as much time investigating crimes committed against supes as we do on crimes with a supe perpetrator, and the supe community knows that. If a cop is fair in his dealing with them, the supers remember.

First, Scranton isn't that close the West (by God) Virginia, but it apparently is similar enough to strike a cord with me: the mix of names (Polish, Italian, Irish) and the Catholicism would be familiar to anyone from north central WV. The whole thing felt like it could be taking place just down the road, although Scranton IS much larger than anything just down the road from me.

Second, it was a lot of fun. I love mysteries, I love police procedurals, and this is the kind of supernatural fantasy I initially fell in love with. No boinking, no glittering, just creatures who are very different from us, while inhabiting the world we (mostly) know.

Prostitution is the only job that requires a woman to go someplace private with a complete stranger. That makes working girls easy prey for guys who have more on their minds than a quick blowjob. Psychos have known that ever since Jack the Ripper, if not before.

So yeah, I don't think the existence of supernatural creatures would make the world that different from the way it is now.

Well, most things anyway.

Yeah, I really said, "heck". I'm no Boy Scout, but it's not smart to say words like "hell" in a supe bar. You never know what might be listening.

That's a touch I quite liked.

So, supernatural creatures and a cop mystery. All were pretty good, and I think he did a good job of putting them together.

But really, NO BOINKING. That was the icing on the cake.

This was a fun read, and I recommend it.

Published by Angry Robot

Evil Dark (2012)

Evil Dark

Stan Markowski is still on the supe squad in Scranton, still looking into crime committed by and/or against supernatural creatures, and this time a series of murders looks to be tied together, but the answer to cui bono is nowhere to be found.

Like the first book, dark in the way many police procedurals are, but also amusing.

Combine that with the goatee and his fondness for black clothing and you've got a look … once described to me as Faustian. …(He) would have looked good as Mephistopheles in a staging of Marlowe's play. Faust himself was no fashion plate, by most accounts.

It also continues to ask some interesting questions–once that would be asked if supernatural creatures were integrated into modern society.

"That doesn't apply to supernaturals, of course."

"How come?" Karl asked.

"Because the distinctions aren't as clear. For instance, do you consider a vampire who kills people a serial killer, or just hungry?"

No, I don't know why I like supernatural mysteries so well, I just do. And this is a pretty good one (although I must admit the cover is atrocious. Thank goodness this was an ebook.)

Published by Angry Robot

Known Devil (2014)

KnownDevilStan Markowski is a Sergeant in the Occult Crimes Unit of the Scranton Police. His daughter and his partner are both vampires, but he doesn't hold that against them. (He can't, really, since it's his fault they're vampires.)

It was believed that only goblins were affected by intoxicating substances (in the case of goblins, that would be meth) but the two strung out elves attempting to hold up the diner where Stan and his partner Karl are trying to relax says otherwise. The discovery of Slide seems to be changing the game in Scranton–and in a way that may well make things harder for Stan and the rest of the Occult Crimes Unit.

I love supernatural noir, especially when it's well done.

I mean, what's not to love about:

(H)e – or she – wanted to be the capo di tutti supi.

Or even the normal police procedural snark:

Cops at crime scenes don't have to park at crazy angles that nobody else would imitate – we do it because we can.

Or just regular snark:

"Could be a coincidence, I suppose."

"You see that a lot in our business?" I asked him.

"Not so much, no,"

But it's the little bit he drops in passing that never fail to crack me up, like this:

The book I'd bought was Sematary Danse, the new exposé of the funeral industry by that true-crime writer, Stephen King.

The mystery is pretty good, but really, it's the dialog and the wit that make the story so enjoyable.

One negative note, however.

These are some of the WORST covers I have ever seen.Click on this cover to see it full size, in all it's horrific glory.

It's just awful. I mean, I get the pulp vibe they're going for, but this is just horrible.

Luckily, with the eBook, you don't have to look at the cover.

If you're looking for a fun romp, I can highly recommend this series–go ahead and start at the first book and read your way through.

Quincy Morris and Libby Chastain

Black Magic Woman (2008)

Black Magic WomanThis isn't the first book by Justin Gustainis I've read, so I had a general idea of what to expect. This book is a bit different from the other series I've read, however. A little less horror, and although there was a bit of police procedural to it, the main character is a private investigator, Quincy Morris, and Libby Chastain, the white witch who occasionally helps him out.

There are many different threads in this plot, and from a scan of the reviews, this bothered a lot of people.

Me? I liked it.

The prologue is set during the Salem witch trials. Then we jump to modern time, and Quincy Morris is helping to take out a nest of vampires. This is essentially a short story to introduce us to Quincy Morris.

I liked it, but I can see why some people might not.

Then we jump to the mystery. Which breaks into two story arcs: the Morris and Chastain story arc, and the Van Dreenan and Agent Fenton arc.

I quite liked Van Dreenan and Fenton. I thought they got the better dialog.

"You did not, surely, use the word ‘hinky' in your requests," Van Dreenan said with a tiny smile, his first in days.

"No, I believe I used words like ‘unusual,'‘anomalous,'‘idiosyncratic,' and ‘fucked-up.' Well, maybe not that last one."

Not that I had anything against Morris & Chastain. I just found the two cops a little more interesting. Perhaps because they were non-magical men trying to deal with a magical crime. Though I was a little irritated by the ending. I can't say magical healing is one of my favorite things–it often feels cheap.

Fun terms: 
Walpurgis Night

Lots of really awful things happen. Not in detail, but still disturbing. So this isn't for everyone. But I liked it well enough.

Published by Solaris Books

Rating: 7/10

Sympathy for the Devil (2011)

sympathy-for-the-devilI came to this series because I very much enjoy his Occult Crimes Unit Investigations (despite the horrific covers), so I've been slowly working my way through his Quincy Morris series. Slowly, because I just don't enjoy it anywhere near as much as the other series.

I started this book ages ago (I'll frequently start books on my phone, and then once I get into a book, finish reading it on my kindle), and picked it up to finish because I'm sick and wanted something easy to read.

The story begins in three parts–a presidential candidate and his aide meeting with a black magic practitioner who has offered to raise a demon for them, Qunicy Morris helps take part in an exorcism, and Libby Chastain is contacted by a sister witch who found the taint to black magic on a co-worker.

I'm not really sure what it is about this series, that I haven't taken to it the way I did the other series (which doesn't seem to have any new books) but it might be because I don't really care for Quincy very much. I don't dislike him, he's just not anyone I really want to spent a lot of time with.

There is one character in this book that I quite enjoyed, and that was Malachi Peters, a CIA assassin killed in the late 80s and brought back from Hell for a special job.

He'd been utterly unprepared for the digital revolution, and it had just about blown his mind. That had lasted two hours. Then he had decided that he fucking loved it.  …  His new computer sat on the oak desk the Hay-Adams provided for its guests, and next to it were piled The Idiot's Guide to the Internet, PCs for Dummies, and several other books with insulting titles that promised to teach you the basics – just in case you were from Mars, or had spent the last thirty years in Hell, or something.

(T)he relevant factors were always the same: access, termination, and egress. Or as his instructors at The Farm in Virginia liked to call it, "Getting in, getting it done, and getting out."

To Peters, it seemed like the third stage was going to be the hardest. It usually was – for the first two, you had surprise on your side. But by the time you got to egress, if you lived that long, everybody was after your ass.

Sadly, Mal Peters wasn't in that much of the book.

I did find the conclusion / resolution of the story to be interesting, which helped the book quite a bit.

Published by Solaris

Rating: 7/10


Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives (2011) edited by Justin Gustainis

those-who-hunt-monstersAs the title says, this is a collection of supernatural mysteries.

This was, as sometimes happens, a mix of stories I liked and didn't like, though there wasn't any particular story I thought was terrible. Just stories that were more or less to my personal taste. There were also several stories I had previously read.

"Little Better than a Beast: A Marla Mason Story" by T. A. Pratt is one I had not read, but I enjoy Marla Mason stories, so this was a fun one. Marla is warned only at the last minute that a monster is heading for her town–a monster from the past, as well as the first chief sorcerer of Felport (as we as an explanation as to how Felport got its name. I really liked how Marla dealt with the problems here.

"Dusted: A Cosa Nostradamus Story" by Laura Anne Gilman. Daniel is a retired cop and private investigator who deals with… special cases. Cases that involve things that Nulls don't see or know about. It wasn't a bad story, but it didn't do anything for me, either. Which happened previously with Laura Anne Gilman stories.

"The Demon You Know… A Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom Story" by Julie Kenner. I've seen the Demon-Hunting Soccer mom stories before, and they didn't pique my interest. With a pretty low bar to clear, I have to say I enjoyed the story. I'm still not sure I'd want to read a book, but I did like the story, and thought it was very well done.

"The Spirit of the Thing: A Nightside Story" by Simon R. Green. I'm a huge fan of the Nightside and John Bloody Taylor, and this was a Nightside story I had not read before, so of course I enjoyed it. As with most Nightside stories, you don't need to have read a Nightside book to read one of the short stories.

"Holding the Line: A Jill Kismet Story" by Lilith Saintcrow. I am unfamiliar with Jill Kismet's world, and I can't say I understand it much better following this story. There was a fair amount I didn't understand, which got in the way of my enjoyment of the story.

"Defining Shadows: A Detective Jessi Hardin Story" by Carrie Vaughn. I had JUST read this one in the anthology Weird Detectives. It's a very unusual vampire story.

"Deal Breaker: A Quincey Morris Story" by Justin Gustainis. This story was also in Weird Detectives, about a deal with the devil.

"See Me: A Smoke and Shadows Story" by Tanya Huff. This was also in Weird Detectives.

"Soul Stains: A Vampire Babylon Story" by Chris Marie Green. This was another story I had trouble with, being unfamiliar with the universe in which the story was set. It's a vampire story, but the vampire mythos is never quite clear to me.

"Under the Hill and Far Away: A Black London Story" by Caitlin Kittredge. This is the second story I've read set in this world, and I liked this one better than the first, but it was nowhere near to my favorite story.

"An Ace in the Hole: A Sazi Story" by C. T. Adams & Cathy Clamp. This was another unfamiliar world, but I didn't have any problems diving into the story. And there were some fascinating world building bits here.

There were three emotion scents in the room right now — determination, which smells similar to a heated cast iron pan; and anger, which reminds me of hot peppers roasting. The final scent was frustration; which is a weird mix of scents, including boiling water, black pepper and other stuff.

In other books with weres, they talk about heightened sense of scent, but this is the first time I remember those scents being described in such a way. I quite liked it.

"Hell Bound: A Hell on Earth Story" by Jackie Kessler. This was a story about a succubus, and wasn't my thing at all.

"Impossible Love: A Piers Knight Story" by C. J. Henderson. This was a very interesting story, and one I can't say I felt entirely comfortable with. For some reason, the idea that Down's Syndrome could be caused by demonic possession bothered me. I'll have to think more about why that is.

"Running Wild: An Outcast Season Story" by Rachel Caine. I've read Rachel Caine's Weather Warden books, and although they weren't bad, they also weren't my thing. I believe this story falls into the same category.

All an all, an interesting anthology, and would I can easily recommend–especially if it's still only $3.

Published by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing

Rating: 7/10

Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations (2013) edited by Paula Guran

weird-detectives-recent-investigationsThis is a collection of short stories previously published elsewhere, so I'd already read several of these stories. But there were several I had not, and several of the ones I'd read before were well worth reading again.

This book has been sitting around for awhile, waiting to be read, primarily because I got it in trade paperback, and it's huge and heavy–just the kind of book I hate reading. Too heavy and too bulky for comfortable reading. But the stories drew me in and didn't let me go. (Though the book itself was why I lacked patience for stories I'd recently read or didn't catch my interest immediately.)

Initially, I was just going to flip through and read stories by authors I love, but then I ended up just reading straight through. Having no patience, if I story didn't immediately grab hold, I didn't finish it, and if I hadn't thoroughly enjoyed it the first time (or had read the story very recently), I didn't give it a second read.

"Deal Breaker" by Justin Gustainis centers on his character Quincey Morris (occult investigator), not Stan Markowski (whose series I've been reading). I can't say much about the character of Quincey Morris, but I very much liked the solution to the problem presented.

I really liked it.

As I said, this contained a lot of stories I'd read previously, but they are for the most part good stories, so if you don't have the original anthologies, this would be well worth getting.

Published by Prime Books

Rating: 8/10