BOOK REVIEW: “STRAIGHT TO HELL” (A QUINCY HARKER, DEMON HUNTER NOVELLA)

 

EPIC-award winner for Best Horror Novel John G. Hartness returns with the second installment in his Quincy Harker: Demon Hunter series of novellas, Straight to Hell. His protagonist, Quincy Harker, is the son of Mina Murray and Johnathan Harker of Dracula fame.

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Harker is a half-vampire wizard with a quick wit and a quicker draw. His supernatural genes give him super-human senses, reflexes, magic powers, and a hysterically negative outlook on life. Armed with these abilities and a slew of weapons Quincy hunts every monster imaginable from demons to werewolves, occasionally receiving aid from his polite but capable servant, Renfield, his guardian angel Q, and his Uncle Luke…who’s actually Count Dracula.

Straight to Hell has Quincy teaming up with Detective Rebecca Flynn to guard a college student who has the ability to open the Seven Seals of the Apocalypse.

 

Whew…
Sounds like a lot to take in, doesn’t it? Most writers wouldn’t attempt to squeeze all of that into a single novella but one of Hartness’ strengths is getting across vital information in a prompt and entertaining way. The story opens with Harker and Flynn learning about their joint assignment and their reactions to it. Through dialogue and an internal monologue or two, we learn about Quincy and his background.

Anyone new to the series need not fret over lack of knowledge. Hartness seamlessly weaves all essential backstory and character traits into the prose at just the right time. Not wasting a single word, he tells you what you need to know and then gets back to the action, which is plentiful.

It feels as if every other page features an explosion, fight scene, chase, or some combination of each. It’s a thrill to see which magic spell or ability Quincy will use next and in what context. Each action scene is unique and has its own stakes, keeping them from becoming stale.

At the heart of it all is Quincy. Hartness does a superb job of conveying this character through non-traditional exposition: dialogue, other characters’ reactions to him, etc. We get a feel for his personality and what makes him tick in the first few pages. Not an easy feat for such a short novella.

Harker himself is a delightfully complex individual. Advanced age and occupational hazards have given him a cynical view of the world, but he never once doubts that what he’s doing is right. This reluctant goodness endears him to the reader quickly, but also makes it easy to understand why he can be hard to deal with.

His dialogue is downright funny. I’d be remiss if I didn’t quote some of his better one-liners:

“Nobody likes a smartass, Detective.” I said
“But you’re a smartass, Harker.”
“And nobody likes me, do they?”

I stood up. “This is bulls**t, Smith. Are we taking him with us or not?”
“We are. I would like it to be voluntary if possible.”
“But you only kinda give a f**k, right?” I asked.
“Pretty much.” Smith agreed.

The corner of Smith’s mouth twitched again and I looked away. Watching that guy try to crack a joke was more painful that my last confession, which took seven hours and made three priests retire.

It’s hard to tell if Hartness is a natural comic or if he spends ample time on each paragraph, but Quincy’s personality is laced throughout every line of text, which isn’t always a good thing. For as entertaining as Quincy is, his constant negativity starts to wear thin after a few chapters. In fact, all of the main characters seem trapped in their respective roles; Smith is a gruff cop, Flynn is a gruff cop with a tortured past, Wally is a stoner college kid who doesn’t want to do anything…They all do little to escape their own stereotypes and when you have a couple centuries old demon hunter and two tough cops, there’s a lot of mean and depressing talk.

In the same vein, it would have been nice to get a little more out of the Four Horsemen. Each has a different plan to bring about the Apocalypse and getting through all four and then on to the climax means little to no development for the villains. They appear, do their signature squaring off with Quincy, and disappear. None of this takes away from the overall experience, however.

The Bottom Line:
Overall, Straight to Hell is a funny, witty, and very entertaining read. The characters are fun, the action is engaging, the humor is spot on, and the suspense is palpable. Every chapter left me wanting to know what happens next and I was never disappointed. More well-rounded personalities for our heroes and their adversaries would have been nice, but considering the length of the story, John G. Hartness does an excellent job. It won’t be long before the literary world is speaking of him with the same deference as Jim Butcher or Patricia Briggs. – 8.5/10

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Straight to Hell is currently available in paperback and e-book on Amazon under the ISBN# 978-1511814386.

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-Joe Zamora
Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine
@NerdNationPress

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