Upon reading the first few pages of James A. Hunter’s new novel, Strange Magic, I was concerned this would be just another cliche dark fantasy book in the style of Jim Butcher or Laurel K. Hamilton. Truth be told, the story of a man investigating the supernatural has been done to death in the modern market. Yancy Lazarus is, however, just a bit different. Older, out of shape, and a failed jazz musician and Veteran to the US Marine Corp, Yancy lives out of his El Camino (complete with camper shell) and dodges bullets. He has a soft heart, and like so many of our literary supernatural detectives, he is being hunted. Good at gambling, but bad at betting on people Yancy finds himself in the middle of a supernatural turf war after making the mistake of doing a favor to a friend. He is shot in the butt cheek, attacked by a Rakshasha, Saran wrapped to a kitchen table Dexter-style and finds himself dodging more bullets than are to be believed. Yancy must convince both sides he isn’t their enemy, while finding the person or creature responsible for trying to turn both sides against him.
Yancy is able to manipulate his surroundings using a magical forced called the Vis. He can tap into it, but must be careful to not over do it. This leads to many sequences where Yancy could easily blow open a door, but rather chooses to use a lock pick set so not to alert the authorities. After a few chief battle sequences that seem fairly standard for this type of book we get to see the man Yancy really is. Hunter’s sequences involving finding a series of corpses in the shed of a house and Yancy going into a particular realm called The Hub are particularly well written and detailed. Think an old film noir, mixed together with some Dresden Files principles and top it off with Hunter’s own brand of magic practitioner.
In the end, Strange Magic is both entertaining and highly engaging. Yancy Lazarus is not necessarily the type of character you’d want to spend the rest of your life with, but he is certainly more charming than the first pages allow.