_Black Magic Woman_ by Justin Gustainis is one of the best contemporary fantasy novels I have read in a long time. It has great pacing, characters and plot.
The book starts out fast, with the prologue taking place at the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials in 1692. From there we move to the present day, where our two main characters -- Quincey Morris and Elizabeth "Libby" Chastain -- are each running their own private supernatural consultant businesses. Quincey specializes in dealing with supernatural problems like demons, vampires, or angry ghosts. Libby is a white witch who focuses on magical issues and misuse or misrepresentation of mystical powers such as black magic, fake mediums and fraudulent preachers. They are good friends who have worked on cases together before, and this time it is Quincey who needs Libby's help defeating the curse placed on a family.
There were A LOT of things I liked about _Black Magic Woman_:
- Quincey and Libby are great characters. Both are interesting, have their own personalities and backstories, and their interactions are pleasant to read as well.
- Even though there are a lot of secondary characters and a lot of subplots, it doesn't get confusing or boring, and everything is tied together at the end.
- A lot of passing references to classic horror movies and novels. It's fun to see how Gustainis weaves these into the story.
- References to current-day events, such as politics at the FBI, or some of the more intractable problems in post-Apartheid South Africa.
- Gustainis did a lot of research on his subjects. In particular, lynch mobs attacking suspected sorcerers in Africa and "necklacing" them is something that really happens, and it was obvious Gustainis did a lot of background study before writing this book. At the same time, Gustainis has a light hand with his material and his writing never becomes boring or pretentious.
- In particular, _Black Magic Woman_ stands out from a lot of recent dark urban fantasy in its treatment of gore and Christianity. Some authors in this genre have a tendency to spend A LOT of text on torture and pain, and treat Christianity as being either judgmental and overly rigid or hollow and materialistic. While _Black Magic Woman_ is definitely a crime thriller and a lot of ugly things happen during the book, Gustainis does NOT make the reader wade through pages and pages of blood and horror and bad guys lovingly describing their sadism. Also, the treatment of Christians, Christianity and Christian mysticism was very even-handed.
- There are a lot of great story lines and great secondary characters which would all make interesting books in themselves. Do Quincey and Libby ever run into Barry Love in New York again? Does Fenton ever get sucked into more odd cases? Do we ever get to see Van Dreenan again?
Regarding things I didn't like about _Black Magic Woman_ -- there wasn't much. I think one escape where our protagonists FLEW was a bit far-fetched, but that's the only major complaint I have.
I am looking forward to the next book, and definitely consider this one to be a five-star read.