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Overall, this book is a good fun read.  It has its faults but it’s well-paced, entertaining and very readable.  Don’t expect anything challenging, just read it, enjoy it and forget it.

The story opens with a politician, Howard Stark, running to be president of the United States with his Chief of Staff, Mary Margaret Doyle.  They are on their way to a demonstration of devil summoning with the possibility that it will give them great powers.  The summoning goes wrong and Stark is possessed by the demon which is planning to become president of the U.S.A. and destroy the world of humans.

Quincey Morris is an occult investigator and we meet him assessing the possible possession of a young girl.  He has a close friend, Libby Chastain, who is a white witch and they have been involved in previous joint investigations of matters supernatural.

Over the course of the story Libby and Quincey gradually gravitate towards the case of Howard Stark from different directions.  They come to the conclusion that they must find a way to stop the demon before it can get control of the world.

The story flows well with plenty of pace and many characters in a number of well described scenes.  It is engaging and fun to read.  The author has clearly done a lot of research into the area of devils and demons and this comes out in the details of their names and the hierarchy of hell.

The novel is obviously one of a series as the relationship between Libby and Quincey is well established with a strong back-story that matches the advertising of another book by Gustainis in the last few pages.  I would expect that the other book would be very similar in structure and content.  This book reads like it is aimed at becoming a TV series.

The story does have a number of serious weaknesses, though, but nothing so serious as to spoil the enjoyment of the reader.  The dialogue is often very clunky, made worse by having major plot explanations hammered awkwardly into the exchanges.  For example, characters are constantly explaining everything from common terms such as Q.E.D. to the mechanics of the US electoral system and sometimes I found it to be positively insulting.  It really is aimed at the lowest common denominator so as to have maximum readership.

There are also plot inconsistencies throughout.  The most glaring being the way that one of the demons reacts to the investigators although the final scene was contrived and not really credible in the context of the book.  They’re the same sort of inconsistencies you get in any US dramas where the storyline and the pace are the most important components and this is why it is a good read despite these faults.

There are quite a few sex scenes but nothing pornographic.  The author has added quite a few attributes to the characters such as being bisexual or using cocaine but they are substitutes for interesting characterisations.  Beyond these attributes, there is not much depth to any of the characters.

Another fault caused by this emphasis on storyline is that a back-story provided to increase the tension on Quincey is left unresolved once its job has been done, but this was only a bit annoying as we don’t get to learn enough of the bit players involved to care about what happens to them.

So, this book can be summarised as a light detective series with supernatural elements. Miss Marple with sex and demons, but not Marlowe as not one of the heroes is beaten up.

The plot is quite straightforwardly based on “Overcoming the Monster” (see The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker).

And now for the awards.  I give it the following positive awards, which the author and publishers will probably like.  They are all out of five:

• Four car chases for pace and interest.
• Four replicants (from Blade Runner, of course – do I really need to explain this?) for a well constructed plot.

I also give it the following awards which the authors and publishers may not appreciate quite so much:

• Five American World War 2 tanks with no signs of any other nation other than the bad guys for assuming that the US president is so important in the world that they can destroy everything and bring on Armageddon simply by becoming president and that no one else in the world matters.
• Three trashy trailers full of people too stupid to run away from the evil guy.  This is awarded for writing aimed at the lowest possible reader intelligence.
• Five gunslinger belts because Libby drops her wand into her hand from her sleeve when faced with a demon.  It should have been interesting and unexpected, but for some reason it comes across as a cliche.

To summarise, this is an enjoyable but thoroughly forgettable book to be read as an alternative to watching an old episode of the American detective story Kojak, or Hawaii Five-0, or Columbo, or Quincy or CSI.  Add your own – the list is endless.

Sympathy for the Devil (2011)
Justin Gustainis (Author)
Solaris (480 pages, Paperback)

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