Justin Gustainis – Known Devil

justingustainis-knowndevilMeet Stan Markowski or the Scranton PD’s Occult Crimes Unit.

“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 new supernatural gang is intent on invading Scranton and it looks like I’m going to have to work with the current mob to prevent a demonic gang war.

“If there’s one thing I hate more than living with supernatural scumbags, it’s working with them! But you know that they say, better the devil you know…”

In 2012 I developed a taste for supernatural police procedurals, when I read Scott Sigler’s Nocturnal and Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London and Justin Gustainis’ Evil Dark was the one that confirmed that these sorts of books were really my thing. After finishing Evil Dark I was really looking forward to reading the next instalment in the Haunted Scranton series and, after two years, this weekend I finally got to return to Scranton and Detective Sergeant Markowski and friends. Known Devil was a blast, with the same sense of humour that had me chuckling out loud when reading Evil Dark and another action packed adventure. 

We once again follow the tale of Stan Markowski, his partner Karl Renfer and Stan’s daughter Christine. Stan is almost your typical plain clothes detective seen in so many crime novels and TV shows, except for the fact that he works in a unit concerned with supernatural crime. Still, Stan is a cop in a familiar mould, dedicated, determined and stubborn, but with a heart of gold. Yet Known Devil sees Stan taking some hard decisions to keep his loved ones safe, decisions that will affect his far beyond the scope of this novel. One of these loved ones is his partner and best friend Karl. I love the progress Karl makes during the novel. Still adjusting to his status of being undead and having fangs, he’s learning what this means for his life and how it limits what he can do. Especially the therapy to desensitize him to crucifixes is genius. The other loved one closest to Stan is his daughter Christine. Her role is a little smaller this time around, but I like how Gustainis works in their close relationship and their evening breakfast talks about the cases Stan works.

Known Devil‘s case is a good one, with plenty of action, danger and some surprising twists. We get the return of some known antagonists and I loved the scenes with the Fangsters, vampire mobsters, and those with the bomb squad. There were some elements that made me a bit twitchy, mainly to do with the fact that when Stan ignores a direct order from his boss no one calls him on it, in fact their departmental white witch, Rachel goes out of her way to help him afterwards. While it fits the narrative and Stan’s character and his relationship with his boss, I just couldn’t imagine Lieutenant McGuire just letting it slide like that.

As last time what made the book for me were all the real-world references which where tweaked to fit this alternate reality Scranton, which is filled with supernatural creatures and thus caters to their needs as well. There is the elf Thorontur, nicknamed Thor, though he doesn’t resemble Chris Hemsworth. The head of the vampire mobster family is called capo di tutti vampiri and drives a car with the vanity plates BATDAD1. The department shrink is called Doc Watson, and the department witch Rachel consults an academic journal called Journal of the American Magical Association or JAMA for short. And that’s just to name a few. Picking up on these Easter-egg-like elements was huge fun and Gustainis does them very well.

I had a great time with Known Devil and tore through it in a single sitting – with a break for food and putting the kids to bed – chuckling all the while and reading out good bits to my husband. Like Evil Dark, Known Devil stands alone quite well and you don’t have to read the previous books to enjoy this one. However, if you haven’t read any of these books before then you are in for a treat as they are hugely enjoyable. Meanwhile, Known Devil is a very enjoyable read that ends on a satisfying note, but leaves the door open for more adventures. I sincerely hope this isn’t the last time we will see Stan, Karl, Christine and the rest. I’d love to return to Scranton in the future, but I’ll have to settle for catching up on the first book in the series, Hard Spell, which I haven’t read yet.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.