I think that EVIL WAYS improves on BLACK MAGIC WOMAN, not that BLACK MAGIC WOMAN was at all horrible. Writer Justin Gustainis has tweaked a couple of things, and the result is that EVIL WAYS is a more exciting, more suspenseful read. In this paranormal thriller, the stakes get about as high as they can get.
It starts off with a daring heist which costs the Baghdad National Museum one of its most mysterious artifacts, the Book of Shadows (which resurfaces in a bit). In Los Angeles, occult troubleshooter-for-hire Quincey Morris - and, yes, his ancestor was the very same Quincey Morris featured in Bram Stoker's classic horror novel - is "convinced" by the FBI to help investigate the new rash of ritualistic child murders. Meanwhile, followers of the Right-Hand Path - that is, the benevolent white witches - are being targeted and assassinated, and this means that Morris's friend and sometimes case partner, Libby Chastaine, is in grave peril. Libby figures the best way she can stay alive is if she kept Quincey company. She helps him on his case. He watches her back.
The FBI works the child murders from another angle. Special Agent Fenton is back from BLACK MAGIC WOMAN and he's a bit more used to the paranormal stuff now. It doesn't hurt that his new partner of eight months, she seems to be up on what's weird and mystical. She's certainly nursing a secret. Unlike in the first book, Special Agent Fenton's investigation actually loops him into the main story arc. On Walpurgis Night - or to go with its more ominous name, the Witch's Sabbath - the very-out-of-their-jurisdiction federal agents, and Morris and Chastaine, and their allies converge in Idaho for one of those supernatural all-hell-breaks-loose kind of showdowns. And the Book of Shadows? It plays a key part in all this.
Thick in the mess of things, the shadowy figure who had been pulling strings in BLACK MAGIC WOMAN finally steps into the light; we find out what his deal is. We also find out that he isn't the big player we perceived him to be. Rather, it's that whole "the power behind the throne is the one really calling the shots" deal. We figure this out pretty early on.
So, several cool things. The writer has several really interesting characters to play with. Quincey and Libby's interactions - with their platonic relationship a steady undercurrent - continues to be a fun strength of the series. Gustainis also puts in the work in exploring the Wiccan element, and we're also introduced to several of Libby's Wiccan associates, some of whom don't get to stick around (because they get murdered). I like that Libby, although she's got mad skills, isn't really the most powerful witch around. Her limitations as a practitioner of strictly defensive magic serve the story in that she isn't always relegated to the deus ex machina role. Which means that Quincey Morris, a mere mortal, gets to do more than his share of saving the day. Morris isn't some do-it-all superhero of a guy. He gets results and survives because he's pretty savvy about how the supernatural world works.
Another very intriguing character is the icy monster slayer Hannah Widmark. She's hired by Morris to act as his and Libby's bodyguard. And she's a pretty fascinating person, and may actually have more ties to what's going down than just her being hired as muscle.
The coolest thing Justin Gustainis may have done here is in sneaking in cameos of characters from other authors' works and even from a short-lived paranormal television series. For this sentence, here's the SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER tag - those whom I recognized are folks like Harry Dresden, Lamont Cranston, and Frank Black. I probably missed a few others. But I absolutely salivate at the concept of a shared urban fantasy landscape inhabited by all these characters. Utterly cool.
Gustainis certainly employs a lot of earthy language, but then again people actually do talk like so in everyday conversations. But if you're easily offended... Also, Gustainis doesn't shirk from following thru, and this just might make you uncomfortable with how certain events unfold. Basically, he's saying that you do what you have to do to get the job done. EVIL WAYS is a dark and violent urban fantasy, and chances are you'll end up cringing in spots, although it's a toss-up whether it's supernatural bats or an FBI agent's methods in drawing a lead from an inmate which'll give you the willies. I can't wait for the third novel. It's title is SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, as the author seems to have gone away from Santana and is now effing around in Rolling Stones territory.