I seem to be developing a taste for supernatural police procedurals. After discovering and loving Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London and Moon over Soho last year and Scott Sigler's Nocturnal last month, this month it was Justin Gustainis' Evil Dark and its protagonist Stan Markowski's turn. I had a tremendous amount of fun with this book. Its writing and tone of voice hooked me from the first page and by the end of the book I was disappointed that it was over so soon, as I would have happily spent another three hundred pages with its characters.
The atmosphere Gustainis creates with his writing is fabulous. From the first page you get a feel for not only who Stan Markowski is, but also in what kind of town he operates. While some of the characters were archetypal, the fact that I thought them so might be due to the fact that I've read and watched a lot of police procedurals. There is the rugged, older main character, with his younger, slightly goofy partner, the gruff squad captain with his heart in the right place and the sexy, sassy female cop love interest among others. And naturally, the cops and the FBI have a hard time playing nice with each other. But archetypal or no, these characters are definitely a bit different, as they are part of a police squad that deals with occult crimes, that means crimes involving or committed by supernatural creatures ranging from vampires to ghouls and goblins. In fact, Stan's partner Karl and his daughter Christine are vampires themselves. Not having read the first book in the Occult Crimes Unit series, I'm not sure about much of Stan, Karl and Christine's back story, other than that it involved getting Karl and Christine turned into vampires to save their lives - or undeath, such as it is - but we do see Stan having mixed feelings about this change in his partner and daughter. There is a lot of hidden depth to Markowski's calm exterior, which makes him interesting to read about, even if a lot of that depth remains unilluminated, though I can't be sure whether it's truly unknown or things revealed in the previous book. Karl, with his James Bond obsession and his rather unique perspective on their case, is a good foil for Stan's serious demeanour and their verbal exchanges are some of the highlights of the book.
The different supernatural creatures found in Evil Dark are a natural part of the story's world, not monsters hidden from human society, but integrated and every day. In fact, I loved the alternate world Gustainis has created. His Cranston is a place unlike our own, but at the same time it could still be the next town over from ours. The supernatural creatures aren't just an everyday part of life; they even have their own history, such as ogres and goblins being distantly-related. They have even penetrated popular culture; there is a website called Drac's List, where vampires can meet potential 'donors', James Bond starred in From Transylvania with Love, Steinbeck's bestseller is Of Elves and Men and Stan buys his daughter something special for dinner at Sup'r-Natural Foods or the local Vlad-Mart. The little details Gustainis manages to drop into the narrative in this manner are awesome and add up to a very convincing alternate reality.
In this very real supernatural environment, we are presented with a frightening case which Stan and Karl get handed by the FBI; there are people making supernatural snuff films, not the urban-myth kind, the real deal. With such a big case on their plate, Stan and Karl get busy, but it seems that every day sees more cases added to their workload as the unit is inundated with cases. Gustainis manages to make all of the cases fit together in a way that leads to a surprising conclusion, one I very much enjoyed.
Evil Dark was a terrifically entertaining read, which kept me invested in its characters from beginning to end. Now I want to read Hard Spell, just so I can spend some more time with Stan, Karl, Christine and the rest, after which I'll eagerly await the as-yet untitled third book. A fun, fast read centred on an interesting case to solve, Evil Dark is a recommended read for anyone who likes police procedurals or the supernatural without sparkles or tramp stamps and leather pants.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.