Evil Ways is a suspenseful dark fantasy novel by Justin Gustainis. Black magic and occult investigators are mixed together skilfully creating a exciting plot. It’s a very entertaining book… so long as you don’t mind jarring geographic errors and odd attempts at dialect.
The second book in the “Morris and Chastain” investigations, Evil Ways (published by Solaris Books) presents its protagonists with a problem: someone is killing children and stealing their organs, and this means dark magic is afoot, and a lot of it. Quincey Morris is an paranormal detective with skills in a variety of areas, including burglary; Libby Chastain is a white witch with experience in taking out some pretty nasty guys. When Morris gets roped in to help the FBI with their investigation, Libby joins in as well–with the slight complication that somebody is trying to kill her.
Having never read Black Magic Woman, the first book in this series, I opened this book without much in the way of preconceived notions about the characters. I merely hoped that the protagonists wouldn’t be too stereotyped and that the villains wouldn’t chew too much scenery. My wishes were granted. The villains were nicely drawn, both the master of black magic, mainly driven by the desire for money and power, and the wealthy recluse seeking to extend his life. The only unfortunate problem with the wizard is that he makes a major blunder–part of his plan to remove resistance to his schemes actually helps the good guys figure out what he’s planning. This wasn’t totally unbelievable, but it did give me pause.
Morris and Chastain themselves were an interesting pair. Libby Chastain is a no-nonsense, capable magic practitioner; Quincey Morris is a folksy Texan lawman type. I don’t object to the folksiness, nor do I mind him addressing people as “fella”. But I do think “podner” is going quite a bit too far. (Does anyone actually say that outside of novels? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I found it kind of silly.) Together they are an effective team, even if they are forced to spend half the book evading hit men. And I was indeed scared by the attack of the hundreds of giant demonic bats! It wasn’t at all clear how they’d get out of that one. There are some actual investigators in the book in the form of a couple of FBI agents, who have a little more success tracking down leads.
One lead takes the agents to a prison. This led to a scene that was gratuitous. I think there was no reason for an FBI agent to agree to do something so repugnant, and for the author to suggest that part of the reason she was willing to do it was because she was abused as a child made it worse, not better. It was not written in a sleazy fashion… but it was unpleasant, unnecessary, and unappreciated.
There were two other things in the book that left me cold. One was that the author teased us with a cameo by a much more famous fictional practitioner of magic… which never happened. That is just not nice to do to a reader. It’s rather as if a writer had his characters stop by the North Pole to meet up with a jolly red-coated friend, but oops! he wasn’t home, so they left. What a letdown! Also, I have to conclude that this book had no editor. Or anybody who read the final manuscript. Because near the beginning of the book, we are explicitly told that the bad guy’s mansion is in Idaho. Page 55, in fact. On page 77 it’s suddenly in Iowa. On page 247 it’s definitely in Iowa and it’s clearly where the big showdown will take place. But I wasn’t the only one who was confused… a few pages later, one of the characters asks, “where was it, Iowa?” and Morris corrects her: “Idaho.” Huh? Finally they drive there from Montana, and I figure Idaho is the safer bet. How ridiculous! It was so confusing that I had to stop reading the book and page back through to get it straight.
Despite these wacky side trips, I did think Evil Ways was a gripping page turner. I found myself reading faster and faster to find out what would happen, and clearly the plotting was the main strength of the book. It’s not particularly gory, though it is quite violent, and the murders of the children happen offstage. The characters are engaging; I’ll probably seek out a copy of the first book, Black Magic Woman, and read that as well. I recommend it if you like a bit of a mystery mixed in with black magic.