Justin Gustainis’ novel Known Devil: An Occult Crimes Unit Investigation is a new option in the supernatural detective genre. Known Devil is set in an alternative Scranton, PA in which supernatural beings coexist with humans. Although coexistence is getting difficult. An outside vampire organized crime syndicate is trying to take over the Calabrese family business. Amongst the gang warfare investigation, Detective Sergeant Stanley Markowski and his partner Detective Karl Renfer are seeking the source of Slide, also known as HG-plus, short for hemoglobin plus something else, a new drug that some elves and rumor has it at least one vampire are hooked on. With the exception of goblins, supernatural beings are not supposed to be prone to addiction. Hovering in the background is a rising political faction that would like to finish off the coexistence of supes and humans; the Patriot party believes that supernaturals are “a cancerous growth”.
Detective Sergeant Stanley Markowski is a bit of a smartass. He always seems to have a sardonic witticism going on, yet he’s serious about his business. His partner, Karl Renfer, is a vampire who goes out of his way to prove he supports the law over his vampiric nature. They work the night shift in the Occult Crimes Unit within the Scranton Police Department. Lately, the night shift is getting a lot of action between the new drug, Slide, causing supernaturals to turn to robbery and vampiric gangland warfare flaring up in the streets. Markowski’s daughter, Christine, is also a vampire. They talk about Markowski’s cases in the evening as they each prepare for their night jobs; Markowski drinks coffee, Christine drinks warmed blood, O-type being her favorite. Christine is a natural observer and frequently relates what she has seen and heard on the nocturnal streets to her father. She provides a unique perspective that is different from a police detective’s point-of-view.
Gustainis’ characters are intriguing, fun, sometimes annoying, but well drawn and lifelike. The interaction of the characters rivals and enhances the consistent flow of action throughout the novel. There is a lot going on within this storyline, yet Gustainis molds and blends the plot with precision. The author suggests clues throughout, but some actions are surprising and lead the reader deeper into the goings on of Known Devil. The one downside of the book, if there is one, was the unneeded digressions (the boss’s java… “he makes it from these Jamaican Blue Mountain beans”) and detailed planning before jumping into a gun battle. Gustainis is excellent with his details but at times, like before a gun battle, these same details tend to slow the flow of the action. Although a little jarring when the digressions happen, they are merely a small hiccup in the buildup of the coming action. I wouldn’t miss this story for these brief digressions in narrative.
All in all, Known Devil is a fun book. It is exactly the entertaining, action packed, supernatural beings filled novel I was hoping for. Whether you’re familiar with the supernatural detective genre or new to this style of noir detective fiction, Known Devil by Justin Gustainis is a pleasurable read.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided by Justin Gustainis. Compensation was received but in no way influenced the thoughts and opinions expressed in this review.