Review courtesy of Dark Faerie Tales.
Quick & Dirty: While it's got a solid supernatural police procedural, the characters and writing fall short of turning these novels into engrossing reads.
Opening Sentence: On the day that Quincey Morris got out of jail, Libby Chastain was waiting for him.
I wanted to like this book. I tried really hard to get into the characters, but the fact is Morris and Chastain never felt real. Our supernatural investigators Quincy Morris and Libby Chastain makes saving the United States from paranormal monsters their day job, but it never felt real. Maybe it's the way the world-building is info-dropped on us like an anvil every time something new appears, or maybe it's just that in my mind Supernatural does it better, but I never bought into the stakes. I couldn't bring myself to care about our heroes or the danger to the U.S.
Libby Chastain is our resident witch and a bada$$. Quincy Morris, who at the start of this novel only just gets out of jail for what happened in the last novel, is following in his family business with the supernatural investigations. Their banter feels forced a lot of the time, but their conversations help keep the pace from lagging. Gustainis tries really, really hard to avoid any sexual chemistry between them, which only made me more aware of the fact. I get he wanted to keep the partners in the friend-zone, but by keeping them so segregated the author only draws the readers attention to their gender.
As for the plot of this novel -- it's actually two. Play with Fire follows a cultic leader and his minions on their arson quest across America and Midnight at the Oasis is about terrorists who unleash a djin. The process Chastain and Morris went through to save the day reminded me a lot of Law & Order, which was only undercut by the fact the reader knows what every character is thinking. The omniscient viewpoint could have been used to build more suspense, which all in all was lacking in the stories, but Gustainis does a good job avoiding too much headhopping. While I'm not sure if the omniscient track was the right POV for the stories, with the exception of too much backstory for irrelevant characters it didn't bother me as much as it normally does.
The world-building here isn't that complex. If it was, if there was some intricacies that made it different from other urban fantasies, maybe I could let go of some of the info-dumping. As it is, every character we run into gets a backstory that's not only unimportant, but irrelevant to the plot. Gustainis doesn't just reference what happens in previous books, but goes over exactly what happened in the previous novel. Even though I only picked up the series on book four, I didn't need to hear everything Morris and Chastain had ever done -- I assumed any references happened on a previous case, probably in a previous novel, I didn't need the three paragraph low-down on what happened to make that reference relevant. It doesn't sound like much, but all together??? The infodumps made the novel(s) twice as long as necessary.
All in all, even with two novels combined, it's not a long book. Once I got past the over-abundance of backstory, I fell into the story like any self-respecting crime show junkie. While I wish there had been some more twists and turns in the plot, all in all it's a satisfying, if not exceptional read.
FTC Advisory: Solaris provided me with a copy of Morris and Chastain Investigations: Play with Fire & Midnight at the Oasis. No goody bags, sponsorships, "material connections," or bribes were exchanged for my review.