Sympathy for the Devil
by Justin Gustainis
Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes
Some time ago I reviewed Black Magic Woman, another Quincy Jones Occult Investigator series. The engaging characters made the demon-hunting action fun and exciting. Sympathy for the Devil adds one thing more. This book is smart. The plot hums. The characters (good and evil) believe in what they are doing. And the pages practically turn themselves.
It reads very much like a Vince Flynn thriller.
Gustainis knows human nature and he never turns his characters into cardboard cut-outs. Best of all, he never underestimates his villains.
The plot begins when a major demon from hell takes possession of Senator Howard Stark, a Republican long-shot for president, and attacks the campaign trail--with a little help from black magic and a ruthless political operative named Mary Margaret Doyle. The betrayal that starts everything off is so obvious you'll never see it coming. I knew from that moment I would be hooked.
Stark wants to win the presidency so that he can begin Armageddon. The real one. He's got an uphill battle and a lot of candidates in the way. Smear campaigns work wonders, but he's going to need more than that. Poison? Torture? Electrocution, anyone?
But one faction in Hell isn't too keen on precipitating Armageddon. God beat them once, after all. Why tempt fate again? They send a condemned assassin (reborn in human flesh) and a minor demon with orders to kill Stark before election day. That little complication makes Sympathy for the Devil so much more satisfying. I say 'complication' because the real protagonists are occult investigator Quincy Morris and white witch Libby Chastain.
Despite its title, there is very little here in the way of investigation. The PI Quincy Morris is more of a demon hunter than an investigator, and while the plot slowly reveals itself to him the reader already knows the score, and the clues fall into Morris's lap with little effort. As in Black Magic Woman, Morris partners with libertine White Witch Libby Chastain, the most interesting character in the book.
By its very nature, Sympathy for the Devil contains a lot of politics. And, because the demon chooses to inhabit a Republican candidate, the politics are exclusively Republican. This gives the author plenty of opportunities to throw barbs at real-life Republican operatives, and a few at conservatives in general. The one-party nature of the barbs bothered me a little, but by page 150 or so the author seems to have gotten this out of his system and it never becomes an issue again.
Stark really is a demon, and so I did not expect (or get) any character change from him. Gustainis takes great pains to show us Stark's pleasure in tormenting his own minions--particularly Mary Margaret Doyle--without ever stooping to the grotesque.
The most interesting character change for me involves one of the secondary characters, the reborn assassin who decides that his mission to kill may actually be a chance to redeem himself and avoid a second trip to hell. He develops real feelings for the demon sent to aid him--feelings she should not be able to reciprocate. But either she is a hell of an actress, or her human body has changed the rules. We don't find out which until the final pages.
A couple of little things bothered me, but I can't figure out how to complain without revealing some spoilers, so I'll leave those for the reader to decide. All in all, Sympathy for the Devil is a fun, smart read. I'd like to thank Gustainis for writing a book so easy to pun about. Unlike Stark, I showed some mercy and deleted about half of them from this review.
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