The Hades Project

What would you do if you had chased a demon possessed mass murderer for hundreds of miles, and he finally gave you the slip? What would you do to find him? How about calling on your local bald, dominatrix, demon-raising, black witch? Come on, raise your hands if you expected me to say that!

Michael Pacilio works for the Office of Scientific Accountability, a federal agency. His division of the federal government usually handles cases of fraud occurring in federally funded scientific research. But every once in a while, they need Pacilio for the big cases, the tough cases.

In Fairfax, Virginia, eleven scientists experiment with opening portals into parallel dimensions by using witchcraft. The feds find ten of the scientists dead at the worksite, and call in Pacilio to investigate. But, whoever murdered them didn't simply murder them. He beat, tortured, incapacitated, raped, burned, disfigured, disemboweled, decapitated, and displayed them. And the eleventh scientist, Peter Barbour, has run.

Pacilio follows the trail of dead bodies until he finds a woman who Barbour left alive. And what she tells Pacilio leads him to believe that someone, or something, has taken control of the good scientist.

But where does the demon want to go, and what does he want to do when he gets there?

Readers will find The Hades Project, by Justin Gustainis, a tight and exciting read. He has created a wonderfully over the top villain, and has added a supporting cast to match it. Along Pacilio's hunt for this horrific killer, he meets up with a part-time hooker, an ER doctor who likes to play doctor, a demon-raising dominatrix witch for hire, a Jesuit exorcist, a hypocrite preacher megastar, and the ghost of an old buddy from Viet Nam. The author throws just enough monkeys in the wrench to make you wonder how all the threads will tie up in the end.

However, this is a debut novel, and it shows in the writing. Gustainis too often uses euphemisms and clever word play when simple language would suffice, especially when describing the actions of the demon Asmodeus. Instead of simply calling him by name, the reader gets phrases like "The thing that once was Peter Barbour," or "The demon moved Barbour's hand and..." Gustainis also consistently referred to Asmodeus as "it" instead of "he," which became distracting very quickly.

The author shows his inexperience the most, however, in his dialogue. He tries to put far too much information in his character's mouths, when it should simply have been put into narrative. This lead to conversations that I have heard described as "As you know, Bob" dialogue, or "Jim, this is a positron" speeches.

This kind of dialogue goes something like:

Evo: Michael, I'm feeling a little guilty.
Michael: Why's that, Evo?
Evo: Well, I just think we've been getting too much credit for the success of the Dragon Page. As you know, Michael, not only are we on the Bookcrazy Radio Network, but we're on syndicated radio in two states, as well as Cosmic Landscapes Internet Radio.
Michael: So, what's wrong with that?
Evo: Nothing. I think it's wonderful, but I don't think Joe Murphy's getting the credit he deserves.
Michael: Really?
Evo: Well, let's look at the facts. You're the author of Mistress of the Dragon and Dragon's Fire, Wizard's Flame, I know, but what do you really do for this show? You get the guests and talk to them. Big hairy deal. I am in charge of the website, and talk to guests too, neither of which, incidentally, has anything to do with my main passion, which is herbalism. But a trained monkey could do my job.
Michael: So?
Evo: But Joe, he writes REVIEWS! He writes the newsletter. Surely, he is our backbone. Our show, which was rated as the second most popular show on Bookcrazy Radio, would crumple and die without him.
Michael: So, what do you propose we do?
Evo: I think we should call it "Joe Murphy's Dragon Page, starring his humble followers, Michael R. Mennenga, and Evo Terra." Maybe I should even change my name back to "Travis." This is my real name, remember Michael?
Michael: I remember.

Writing dialogue in which the characters tell each other things they already know, in order to convey the information to the audience, is a hallmark of bad writing. And The Hades Project overflows with it. The entire epilogue consists of almost nothing but this type of speech. Somehow, the television show CSI gets away with it, but it doesn't work here.

In creating The Hades Project, Justin Gustainis wrote a good story, but I think he needed to write a few more drafts to make it a good book.

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Hades Project by Justin Gustainis
Published by: Brighid's Fire Books; September 2003
ISBN: 0971327866

About Joe Murphy

Joe Murphy succumbed to leiomyosarcoma on April 1, 2007. The irony of this is not lost on any who knew him and laughed with him. He was the first “official” book reviewer for The Dragon Page Radio Talk Show, and after moving to Arizona, he became a frequent contributor to Cover to Cover, Wingin’ It, Slice of SciFi and co-host of Kick-Ass Mystic Ninjas.

He will be missed.

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