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Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Author: Justin Gustainis
Plot Type: UF
Ratings: V3; S3; H3
Publisher and Titles: Solaris
     Black Magic Woman (2008)
     Evil Ways (2008)
     Sympathy for the Devil (2011) 

     This series was originally titled QUINCEY MORRIS SUPERNATURAL INVESTIGATIONS, but Gustainis added "CHASTAIN" beginning with book 2. Quincey Morris is the namesake and great-grandson of the rich young Texan of the same name who lost his life in the final battle with Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel. The modern-day Quincey investigates many strange and dangerous problems of the occult with his partner, white witch Elizabeth (Libby) Chastain. The author includes plenty of genre-related in-jokes that add humor to the stories. For example, in Evil Ways, Quincey sets up a meeting with Harry Dresden (the star of Jim Butcher's DRESDEN FILES). In Sympathy for the Devil, while he is recuperating from an injury Quincey sends sends some clients to Anita Blake (Laurell K. Hamilton's ANITA BLAKE Series) and Jill Kismet (Lilith Saintcrow's JILL KISMET Series). In books 1 and 2, the plots follow two teams as they investigate a supernatural crime, each taking a different path toward the solution and then meeting near the end to double-team the bad guys.

     Here are the back-of-the-book blurbs for books 1 and 2. I don't usually include these in my blogs, but I read these books way back in 2008 and didn't take notes, so I have to rely on these "prepackaged" summaries. The review of Sympathy for the Devil, however, is an original, written by me.
Black Magic Woman 

     Occult investigator Quincey Morris and his "consultant," white witch Libby Chastain, are hired to free a family from a deadly curse that appears to date back to the Salem witch trials. Fraught with danger, the trail finds them stalking the mysterious occult underworlds of Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans, and New York, searching out the root of the curse. After surviving a series of terrifying attempts on their lives, the two find themselves drawn inexorably towards Salem itself—the very heart of darkness.   

       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!    

     As the story opens, Harold Stark, a right-wing senator from Ohio is running for U.S. President when he is possessed by the demon Sargatanas. That kicks off a complex plot in which Quincey and Libby and their colleagues must stop Stark/Sargatanas with as little collateral damage as possible. Quincey is still recovering his brush with hell that occurred during a horrendous adventure in Idaho in the previous book. In the climactic closing scene of that book, Quincey received a "hell burn" on his neck that will come back to haunt him in this new book. The story unfolds in a series of related, escalating scenes, each focusing on a different character's involvement with Stark/Sargatanas. Here are the primary supporting characters: 

   >  Mary Margaret (MM) Doyle: Stark's power-hungry human assistant, who is looking forward to becoming Sargatanas's queen when he takes over the world.

  >  Malachi (Mal) Peters: A former covert government assassin who died, went to hell, and has now been brought back by the demon Astaroth to kill Stark/Sargatanas before he can become President.

  >  Ashley (aka Ashur Badaktu): a beautiful demon who is sent by Astaroth to assist Peters. 

  >  Nestor Greene: a political dirty-tricks specialist hired by MM to get rid of Stark's political competitors.

  >  The Grocer's Son: an assassin hired by Nestor to take out the final competing presidential candidate.

     Quincey and Libby are separately drawn into the Stark/Sargatanas situation and soon begin to work together to solve the problem. Gustainis hopscotches from one character to another to carry the story along, with each scene building up more and more suspense. All of the characters are well developed, even the two exorcists who get dragged into the mess. Gustainis excels at creating well-constructed stories woven from many disparate threads, and this is a prime example. The ending is full of twists and surprises that will keep you guessing up until the very last paragraph.

     Although I awarded the series a "3" in sensuality because it does not include any graphic sexual scenes, the reader should be aware that sexual innuendo simmers throughout the book. Libby has been known to swing both ways, and the demons are sex obsessed, but all of their sexuality is limited to talk and/or aftermath descriptions. Language in some scenes is provocative and profane. We are, after all, dealing with demons here.

     This is a solid UF series with plenty of action and suspense. It is different from the usual UF series, because its star is a thirty-something male based on a literary figure. Quincey Morris and his friends sprinkle their dialogue with quite a few quotations from history, literature, and popular culture—from Sun Tzu's Art of War to Nietzsche to James Bond movies. Gustainis does a great job of creating his many plot threads and then weaving them together to form a coherent, adventure-packed story with humorous overtones.

Here are two quotations from Sympathy for the Devil that will give you a taste of Justainis' humor:    

     In this scene, Quincey explains to Libby that he had to send some of his clients to other occult investigators:
     "So, if not to me, then who have you been giving referrals to?"
     "Well, there's Anita [Blake]. I sent a couple of people her way."
     Oh.  Her."
     Morris gave a snort of laughter. "You said that the way I bet Dracula used to say 'Van Helsing'....She's good at what she does, Libby."
     "Well she used to be. But from what I hear lately, she's more interested in who she does than what, if you know what I mean."
     ...."Different strokes. In Anita's case, I grant, very different. And lots of them." (Sympathy for the Devil, pp. 222-223)

     In this scene, Peters and Ashley are discussing their next move:
     "I suppose we'll have to fly into New York, rent wheels, then drive across the rives," she said. "Ugh."
     Peters was on his way to the shower, but he turned back for a moment. "Come on, baby, we've both been in Hell, I think we can probably handle New Jersey." (Sympathy for the Devil, p. 406)

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