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Sympathy for the Devil (A Morris and Chastain Investigation Book 3) Kindle Edition
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After a good, atmospheric and intriguing prologue (which leads to Stark's possession), the novel quickly moves into a fast-paced supernatural thriller. Morris and Chastain are reunited as the events surrounding the primary election turn darker, each called in by separate parties to look into the bizarre happenings that seem to follow in the wake of Stark's rise in the polls. We are taken into the workings of the campaign, as well as the world of demons, witchcraft, resurrection, and exorcisms. With its solid plotting, and fluid prose, it's extremely difficult not to get swept up by the novel.
I haven't read the first two books in this series (which I'm now kicking myself over), and there's always a concern when jumping in partway through the story that you'll be completely lost. Luckily, I didn't feel adrift, I wasn't made to think I've missed major points by not reading the previous two novels. The two main characters already feel well-rounded and developed, and one gets the sense that Gustainis is already comfortable writing them, despite it being relatively early in the series. This made it very easy to read about them. Even his non-recurring characters are realistic and three-dimensional.
Given my long-time interest in US politics, I was happy to find some great D.C. observations and commentary in here - ranging from law enforcement processes to the pettiness of Beltway politics and cutthroat electoral politics, there's a lot in here to please thriller and politics fans. There is, of course, also lots to please fans of occult- and urban fantasy. Sympathy for the Devil is the first novel in this sub-genre to actually entertain me all the way through and have the detail, mysticism and real-world-grittiness that I think the genre lends itself to so very well. This is really great stuff, and I was left wanting so very much more after I finished the final page. I've actually been surprised how infrequently we see a blend of political thriller and supernatural fantasy - as Gustainis (along with Christopher Farnsworth), have clearly shown, it offers great opportunity to be creative and entertaining, while also allowing for some amusing, oftentimes insouciant commentary on today's political environment.
In addition to US politics, we learn a little about the politics of Hell, which forms a central element of the plot (one I shall not spoil - but the two main characters involved in it were my favourite in the novel). Unsurprisingly, Hell is a mess of plots and counterplots in motion, factionalism and, of course, dirty tricks. This makes for a very intriguing and entertaining addition to the novel.
The scandals used to skewer Stark's opponents are familiar - they have all happened (with variations, of course) in real life, and Gustainis includes details of their real-world counterparts on occasion (even mentioning Joe Biden at one point). It's another fact that adds a sorry indictment of the state of contemporary American politics, particularly presidential politics. It's quite nicely done, and Gustainis has clearly done a lot of research to make sure this novel is politically accurate. Add to this his prodigious imagination and interesting take on the supernatural, and I would go so far as to say this novel is damned near perfect.
There's no escaping comparisons to Jim Butcher's Dresden Files due to genre and aesthetic similarities (they also share some noir-ish sensibilities). For me, Sympathy for the Devil was better than early Dresden Files novels, which for whatever reason never really grabbed me. Gustainis is not at all squeamish, which gives some of his scenes a more visceral feel than what I found in the other Urban Fantasy novels that I've tried. This novel also benefits from not descending into Paranormal Romance, a subgenre that, I'm afraid, has thus far totally failed to engage my interest (that being said, there is an oddly sweet budding-romance in the novel). The novel includes the best elements of both the thriller and supernatural/horror genres: one finds in a straight political thriller (think Richard North Patterson, John Grisham, etc.), with shrewdly-observed electoral politics and dirty tricks, only it's given an original twist and supernatural shine that allows Gustainis to play around with traditional genre tropes to make something fresh, new and very rewarding.
Dark, original, and well-written, this is a great novel, bridging perfectly the two genres. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and am definitely a convert to Mr. Gustainis's fiction.
For Fans of: Christopher Farnsworth, Trent Jamieson, Jim Butcher
The premise is a good one but I felt that too much time was spent on politics and that it could easily have been a non-supernatural tale of corrupt politicians. There's not a lot that happens that couldn't just be put down to not very nice people. I understand politics is full of them! Not being American, the run up to the presidential elections is not something I have a lot of understanding of and I only take a passing interest in the whole affair from afar. Though having watched The West Wing, I do have the ability to be entertained by a fictional account but this just didn't hit the mark.
Having been told the book works as a standalone read I felt there were just too many references to something that happened previously for that to be the case. I may be more interested in the earlier books to understand a bit more about the relationship between Morris and Chastain. For a series with their names in, they didn't get much page space. There are just too many characters for a real understanding of any of them. I get that in politics there are a lot of people involved but they didn't all need their own story.
Being told from various different viewpoints, there wasn't much mystery to the investigation. Nothing to keep me gripped and I struggled to get through it at my normal pace. I do think it would appeal to a different audience...not to sound sexist but maybe it's a man's read. There are numerous references to the stereotypical male fantasies which come across as a bit cheesy (but I'd probably say the same if it was reversed).
Add to this "guest" appearances from other well-known Urban Fantasy characters (such as a visit to a certain bar in Chicago) and the reader really is in for a real treat. However add to this a series that has a grounding in an all too familiar reality and it lets the reader believe that there really can be monsters lurking in the dark. All in, this was an absolutely cracking read and when added to having one of the supernatural's bidding for the most powerful office in America, really could have you believing that perhaps not everything is as is appears in the papers making this cracking magical adventure.
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