Cursed City by William Massa (2016)
Do you ever get into reading slumps? You know, those periods when you search and search for something to read (even though you have tons of books already on your bookshelf just waiting for your attention) but nothing ever really sparks your interest? When you read sample after sample and give up before you get to the end? When you force yourself to finish the book you took a chance on even though it doesn’t fully capture you and demand you keep turning the pages? Well, this is where I have been for the last few weeks. I have started several books but haven’t finished one, and I’ve spent way more hours scrolling through my options on Amazon than is good for me. At last, I opted for Cursed City and I read it from start to finish in one day. While I feel terribly accomplished in that I actually met my reading goal for the week (to read just one book), I’m not enthusing about the book itself.
Cursed City is the first book in William Massa’s Shadow Detective series. The main protagonist is Mike Raven, who hunts the things that go bump in the night. Here are some things you may want to know about Raven—he’s 29 years old and was orphaned at the age of 8 when his parents were murdered by a demon; he works with his mentor, Skulick, who was his father’s partner in demon-hunting before he died; he has two magical artifacts that keep him relatively safe in his demon hunting—a gun that will kill just about any demon (for my Supernatural friends, the Colt should come to mind) and a ring that he wears on his pinky finger; he has a scar on his chest that was made by the very same demon that killed his parents (for my Harry Potter fans, think about that scar on Harry’s forehead) and it pulses with pain when he is in the presence of the supernatural. Raven drives an Equus Bass 770—and for someone who isn’t into cars, this meant nothing to me until I actually looked it up on the net because, well, the author makes of point of having Raven identify the car by Equus Bass, Bass 770, or Equus Bass 770 every time he needs to refer to his ride. Personally, I prefer the way Harry Dresden refers to his Blue Beetle, but I’m not judging. As I said, Raven is a demon hunter, and as such he gets called upon the local police when they need his assistance, and when he’s not assisting them, he’s working on cases for clients that Skulick has lined up for them. Raven is a serviceable protagonist, not too bland but also not especially memorable. Not interesting enough for me to want him to be my next book BFF, but not so dull that I would avoid him at a cocktail party.
Since this is the first book in a series, there’s the supporting cast to consider. Thus far, there appear to be two characters that seem to have a good chance of recurring in future books in the series. The first is Skulick, who plays the role of mentor (again, if you’re into Supernatural, think Bobby Singer). Due to an accident, Skulick broke his back and is now bound to a wheelchair. While he can’t go out in the field with Raven and hunt the bad guys, he is the world’s foremost authority on demonology. He raised Raven after his parents were killed, and they share the common bond of wanting to find and destroy the demon that ended his parents’ lives. The second is Jane Archer, who is a detective on the police force. Archer is aware of the curious things happening in the Cursed City, but she’s not fully in-the-know. She is also the love interest, and while Raven would like to build a relationship with her, he’s afraid of the potential danger that being with him could bring to her doorstep, and so he keeps her at a distance. These two characters are there to prevent Raven from being a complete loner and isolated from the society in which he lives.
Massa shrouds the true nature of the Cursed City in vague, broad brushstrokes. What we seem to understand at this point is that two years ago, an act by the Crimson Circle pierced a hole in reality, and as a result, the instances of supernatural activity within the Cursed City has skyrocketed. This bleeding of the supernatural into the normal world are like tremors spreading out from an epicenter. The City is at the center and experiences the greatest activity, but in every widening and lengthening circles that activity is branching out to the countryside. There is a moment in the narrative where Raven indicates that he conceals the name of the city on purpose, and perhaps this is intended to allow the reader to imagine that it could be happening in any large, metropolitan American city. It seems to stand to reason that in the books that follow the incident that created this new normal in the Cursed City will be revealed in greater detail, but it also gives Massa plenty of fodder for future cases to have Raven and Skulick investigate. The possibilities are endless.
Because this is a first-in-series book, the question I always ask is this: Am I invested enough in the characters and the world to want to read a second book? Hard to say. I can see myself giving the next book in the series a chance to wow me and pull me all the way in and never let me go. I can also see myself taking a pass on the rest of the series. The book staved off boredom for a while and didn’t do anything to make me want to put it down, but when it ended I didn’t have that crazy energy I get at the end of books I love where I just can’t stop thinking about it. I will say that there is one thing that did really bother me—the timeline is repeatedly confused. At some points, the murder of Raven’s parents happened 16 years ago, and other times, it happened 21 years ago. Since Raven is 29 years old, and since the age of the client that sets the main plot into action is significant (she’s two days away from her 21st birthday), it’s clear that 21 years is the correct amount of time. If this is something that will drive you crazy, steer clear, because it does come up more than once. Otherwise, if you like reading about demon hunters a la the Winchesters, give Cursed City a try.