[Editor’s note: Although Harry filed this review as a “D Review”, after considering his review, and that he has many good things to say about the book, and that he recognizes his opinion may have been just a bad mood, I’m filing this review as a “B Review”. That seems more fair.]
Posted by Harry Markov
Title: Evil Ways
Author: Justin Gustainis
Series: Quincey Morris Investigation Series, Book2
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Quincey Morris and Libby Chastain investigate a series of murders where white witches are being hunted down and killed—and Libby may be next on the list. Meanwhile, the FBI is stymied by a series of child murders around the country, in which the victims’ organs are being removed for use in occult rituals. Quincey and Libby don’t want to get involved, but they may have no choice. From Iraq to Idaho, the trail of clues leads straight to Walter Grobius, a crazed billionaire who plans the biggest black magic ritual of all time. If he isn’t stopped, all Hell will break loose—for real.
Verdict: It took me quite awhile to get to this novel and considering how many positive reviews it gathered, I think I ended up reading the novel wrong, because at large “Evil Ways” didn’t exactly work for me. Perhaps I am on a different vibe right about now or perhaps my tastes have changed in the stretch of a year, but after reading and loving “Black Magic Woman” I waited for something bigger and better as the perfect scenario for a series should be.
Plot-wise I got everything I needed. Compared to the first book in the series “Evil Ways” excels in dynamics and stretches through the better part of the USA and even offers some scenes of heist action in Baghdad. The use of magic is extensive and ranges from summoning to blood sacrifices, wards and astral projection. The variety and degree of explanation behind each act is satisfying for me as a fan of the occult and creates a solid believability. Satan also makes a very gruesome cameo appearance, which always acts as a plus and sex just lounges in between the pages. Gustainis also gives the readers every man’s dream: a woman wielding big guns with the intention of using them.
So what was the problem, if everything so far is all I could ever dream of? Gustainis has wonderful ideas and has woven them into a believable enough plot, but what doesn’t work for me in this installment is the actual writing. Spreading the story through different points of view is great and we can see what happens on both sides of the whole apocalypse-in-the-making, but the stark in-your-face approach to representing the impending doom fails to build tension. In “Black Magic Woman” I loved, when the author didn’t beat around the bush and slapped the reader with the facts as they were with no poetic detours and you felt like a part of a much messed up episode of CSI. However now that the supernatural elements have been pumped up “Evil Ways” should have, at least to me, dripped dread and the book didn’t. The famous bat scene was awesome yes, but it didn’t make me fear that the characters wouldn’t get out. Same goes for the grand summoning of Satan. As the final ceremony transpired I didn’t feel any immediate danger for the character or for the world at that.
This being said, the second thing that didn’t work for me happened to be dialogue. I enjoy wise cracking as much as the next guy, but I couldn’t buy the idea that two people no matter how comfortable with each other would mock bicker, wise crack and throw punch lines and funny expressions, when Libby is being chased by enemies unknown and the apocalypse on the rise. Comic relief via dialogue is a powerful tool and the final use at the very end of the novel is just perfect, but in almost every conversation, it becomes tiring and destroys the reader’s belief in the credibility of the story.
Negative aspects aside, there are quite a few good things to complement Mister Gustainis upon, such as his bravery regarding sex. Few ever dared to throw in orgies that have demons in and incorporate bestiality moments, a scene that stunned me as a matter of fact and was one of the few moments that created a very sinister atmosphere of decadence and dread in the novel. Also the scene, where Colleen had to play it cheap hooker in order to get the info she needed for the case to move on underlines how dire the situation is, even though it’s very un-FBI thing to do.
I am also very pleased with the world building angle. Gustainis has done some very heavy research to get down the principles of magic right and authentic as much as the complex system allows such a task to be performed. You won’t notice any deviation from the previous installment in the series, just a sort of expanding what has already been established in rules and possibilities. As much as I am a fan of the Japanese “I have a nuclear power plant rivaling load of energy” I find it refreshing to see that magic through most of the novel is very hard to get going and produce immediate effects, which usually takes up a lot of work that once interrupted can result into a catastrophe of some degree.
As a whole, “Evil Ways” is a good concept with an execution that didn’t manage to stir much of a reaction out of me. I am not sure I am in the capacity to recommend or warn off people as the experience as a whole was bittersweet and confusing. I still can’t make up my kind about “Evil Ways”, but there are enough reviews to show you a different perspective.