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Nightside

Review: Hard Spell: Occult Crimes Unit Investigations, Book 1

hardspell“My name’s Markowski, a Detective Sergeant on the Scranton PD’s Supernatural Crimes Investigation Unit. I carry a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets.”  – Markowski, Hard Spell

Death is when the monsters get you. – Stephen King

Scranton, Pennsylvania fifty years after WWII is a different place than one might expect.  When millions of Americans poured into Europe to fight in the war, they picked up a little something extra to bring back home besides war wives and interesting STD’s. Quaint little things like cases of werewolves and vampires and zombies (oh, my!) Needless to say, it changed the way life is lived in the good ol’ US of A. Instead of McCarthy going after ‘Commies’ he gets to do real, honest-to-goodness witch hunts – for real witches. . .

There is a lot to like about Hard Spell. There is humor and a great deal of creativity that I got a kick out of. Gustainis writes an engaging tale with a strong noir flavour which reminds me quite a bit of the feeling I get from the Nightside stories by Simon R. Green – one of my favorite series of all time. There is a feeling of reality in the very unreal situations of the book, which was pleasing. However, the role of women characters in the book was, well, I hesitate to say “demeaning” but it comes very close to the razor edge of treating women as lesser beings – something that I found less than enjoyable. Even the female SWAT team member was portrayed in a less than admirable manner – something that irritated me to no end. I wanted to shake the author and remind him that “noir” doesn’t equate with “testosterone poisoning.”

I listened to the book – the Audible edition. As much as I enjoyed Gustainis’ work, I cannot say the same for the narrator. He was, in a word, completely irritating. What narrator worth his salt cannot be bothered to check pronunciations?!?! The guy STINKS at pronunciation! Come on – you don’t know how to pronounce “were” as in “werewolf??” Weer (like a Bostonian we’re)  is not even close to correct, Peter. It is rather insulting to the author that you can’t be bothered to take a moment to learn pronunciations.  Especially for such common terms.

Overall, I knocked a full star off for poor narration. Another half star for some problems with trite characterizations (especially the handling of Markowski’s first partner) and with his tendency to treat his characters with something less than respect. Overall, however, this was a completely bad introduction to the series. I hope to find a more well rounded volume with the next in the series, Evil Dark: Occult Crimes Unit Investigations, Book 2 – though I won’t be buying the Audible edition. Five more minutes of Peter Brooke and I may have been forced to throw my reader across the room. . .

 

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Review: Unshapely Things by Mark Del Franco – A New Favorite!

unshapely
Mark Del Franco’s Connor Grey gives both John and Harry a run for their money!
Click to order!

Detail. Some readers don’t really care about it – they simply want a book that they can pick up, breeze through, and go on to the next thing. Oh, that has its place, certainly. However, that has never been me. Rich details, complexity, and compelling story lines are what call to me as a reader, and del Franco offers these up in spades.

 Unshapely Things is an urban fantasy, to be sure, with fairies and elves, gargoyles and monsters, and a damaged Druid hero, Connor Grey. Connor puts me in mind of both Simon R. Green’s John Taylor and Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden. Like Harry, Connor pretty much lives hand-to-mouth, taking the jobs he can get from the police. With his brain damaged and his Druid powers pretty much non-existent, Connor has been fighting a losing battle against depression and ennui as he slides from a life of power and wealth into the “The Weird,” the fae neighborhood where the dregs of both the fae and human worlds reside. You won’t find vampires in this world, but you will find dirty politicians galore – isn’t it the same thing?

 When his human police partner, Leo Murdock calls him to the scene of a brutal murder of a male fairy prostitute, Connor has no idea that this murder could be a signpost to the end of the world – with Boston as the center of the maelstrom. What follows is a story that I found to be something quite special. This isn’t just an urban fantasy. Instead, it blends alternate history with suspense, mystery wit terror, and ties it all together with a huge dose of political intrigue.

 In 1900, on this alternative Earth, there was “Convergence” – an event which brought the world of Fairy and the Earth into alignment, pulling Fairy creatures onto this planet, effectively blocking them from their own. Battling between themselves, they drug the war between fairy and elf onto this world, battling it out through the World Wars, with some siding with Hitler while some sided with the Allies. The time of the story lands right into modern day, during the Fey Summit, an attempt by both sides to extend an uneasy peace and avoid all-out war. As the bodies pile up, is there a possibility that the deaths are connected to the Fey Summit? Or is there something even darker and more dangerous going on?

 Mark Del Franco writes exceptional characters. Connor was damaged during his work for “The Guild” the policing agency for the Fey on Earth. Broken, and with limited powers, he is living in poverty on a small disability check, pondering his losses and the wasteland he sees as the rest of his life. His partner, Murdock may be human, but with all of the bad feelings, jealousies, and hatred of most humans toward the Fey, he is curious and open to learning of the Fey and their ways. He cares what happens to them, and relies upon Connor as his instructor.

 Del Franco’s female characters are both strong and likable, with individual strengths and personalities that I am very much looking forward to learning more about. This isn’t by any means a “paranormal romance” but if you are a PR reader who likes strong, adept women characters who still follow their hearts as well as their minds, these women will be right up your alley. The story is rich in detail, both in the world building and the characterizations, and holds the attention until setting the book down and remembering you have to do things like eat and sleep will be impossible to accomplish.

 Overall, this is a series sure to appeal to a number of different genre readers, and a new-to-me author who goes immediately to the top of my “must” list.

I purchased this book on my own. My comments are my own opinion.

 Reading order for the series is:

delfranco
Mark Del Franco
Click to go to his website

UNSHAPELY THINGS

UNQUIET DREAMS
UNFALLEN DEAD
UNPERFECT SOULS
UNCERTAIN ALLIES
UNDONE DEEDS

 Mark Del Franco is also the author of the books:

SKIN DEEP

FACE OFF

Set in the Connor Gray alternative reality, these books feature the adventures of Laura Blackstone.

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