Evil Dark by Justin Gustainis is a fascinating melding of the old-school cop drama with supernatural elements. A hard-boiled detective, a murderer on the loose, time is of the essence, it’s definitely something straight out of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. Except Sam Spade never had to deal with vampires, black magic, and demonic possession. A great new take on old tropes, with some great suspense and mystery.
My name’s Markowski. I carry a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets.
A series of seemingly motiveless murders of supernatural creatures points to a vigilante targeting the supe community. Markowski wouldn’t normally have much of a problem with that, but his daughter may be next on the killer’s list…
So I guess this is a thing now. Otherwise played straight non-fantasy genres with supernatural elements in an urban setting. I’m assuming this is some sort of aftermath of Sookie Stackhouse making ‘What if there were fantasy elements, but they were pretty much no big deal to anybody in the setting, and everybody knew about them?’ into a popular way to build a setting. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently -bad- about this development; in fact, it leads to some very interesting story concepts. That said, I do have one pretty major issue with the way this is handled in Evil Dark.
EVERYTHING is smacked with the supernatural elements brush. The first few times it came up, it was amusing. Clint Eastwood’s hit movie Dirty Harry, Monster Slayer Rod Steiger’s role in In the Bright of the Day, fair enough. I chuckled. But every. single. pop culture reference in this book (and there are a lot) are done this way. By the time he drives a Ford Exorcist, and references the Beatles ‘White Magic’ album, and a guy is seriously named Duffy the Vampire Slayer, I just started to lose my interest in the trope. I don’t know if he was trying for funny, not funny, funny again, or if this is actually supposed to be showing the impact of the presence of the supernatural on the world, but this is otherwise a fairly serious strait-laced pulp detective book and it really got distracting.
My issues with the overuse of retheming aside, however, this book still has a lot to recommend it. I do enjoy a good hard-boiled cop who sticks to his guns and doesn’t rest until the case is solved. Stan Markowski is a solid character. You quickly get a sense of who he is and what he’s about, and nothing at any point in the story seems out of character for him. That’s a common flaw in this kind of story, where suddenly for plot reasons a character makes a choice that just reads false, and Gustainis never once falls victim to it. Bravo for that!
The story itself was also really great. Everyone loves a good murder mystery, and Evil Dark hits all the right beat moments. The relatively few action scenes are quick and dirty, just like they would be in reality. Gustainis builds tension at a fast enough pace to keep you reading, but not so fast that you hit that weird lull halfway through the story where we aren’t ready for the final confrontation but you’ve amped everybody up for it.
If you enjoy a good detective story, and are interested in working some supernatural elements into the plot, Evil Dark is a great choice. As seems to be common with urban fantasy stories these days, it falls into the same milieu as things like The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig or Sixty-One Nails by Mike Shevdon so if you’ve enjoyed either of those, you’ll find things to like here.
As a side note, as seems to often be the case with Angry Robot books, Evil Dark is actually the second story featuring Stan Markowski. He is actually introduced in Hard Spell by the same author, but pretty much nothing in or on the book itself actually indicates this. This is the second time I’ve accidentally bought and read a book two without any real indicator that I was doing so. Just a caution when buying Angry Robot (which you should do, they are otherwise awesome).