Ready to hunt some witches with ‘Witch Hunt’

Steele Giles, Staff Writer

“Witch Hunt” by S.M. Reine is one of those series with a premise that will prompt a confused expression at the very least.


Basically, magic is real and the government has a department for it.


The book opens with César Hawke, an agent for the Office of Preternatural Affairs (OPA), waking up after a wild night out. His attempt to remember what (and who) he did the previous night ends with him discovering her corpse in his bathtub and subsequently being accused of her murder.


He springs himself from police custody and goes on the run to attempt to solve the murder and clear his name. Luckily, Hawke’s next case required him to hunt up a woman who can talk to the dead.


Things get complicated, as they are wont to do in such situations.


I’d hesitate to tar this book with the noir brush, because Hawke himself is a mostly cheerful guy who wants nothing to do with murders and bodies and demons. He’s not hardboiled or all that cynical, just a kind of goofy guy who ended up in a situation way more complicated than he first knows.


One thing about “Witch Hunt” that does earn it a swipe of the noir brush is how it describes women. Maybe I’m just used to a different style of writing, but I found Reine’s tendency to surround Hawke with attractive women and remind the readers at every opportunity a tad much.


There are two main women in the story— Hawke’s partner, Agent Suzume “Suzy” Takeuchi, and the death witch, Isobel Stonecrow.


Our introduction to Suzy involves a phone call in which she graphically describes the torment she will inflict upon Hawke for being late to work. As the narration is fond of reminding us, she has a killer set of legs and a degree in butt-kicking to justify them and keep Hawke’s apparent admiration private.


Isobel gets an, if anybody can believe it, even more remarkable introduction—Hawke first finds her in a graveyard as she’s raising a ghost while wearing only a loincloth, animal blood, and a feathered headdress. After he finally gets over being annoyed with how hard it is to find her, Hawke finds his train of thought frequently interrupted by how curvy her figure is.


So yeah, the main character spends a lot of time thinking with his little head when there are clearly more important things going on.


Aside from that, perhaps the biggest problem I see with “Witch Hunt” is how long it takes for the antagonist to become apparent. While it is a mystery novel, one usually gets some inkling of who the protagonist is supposed to be opposing. Here, it takes over half of the book before we get the first bit of foreshadowing, and it’s easily ignored as a bit of world building that will never come up again.


Instead, the entire mystery gets solved off-screen by Hawke’s boss, who knew what was going on the whole time and dumps the explanation on us in the last ten pages.


That said, Reine does a good job of building a wider world in which Hawke and the OPA are only minor players. Any given piece of window dressing might be important later, so the keen readers will be looking for Chekov’s guns everywhere.


Hawke’s personality is fun, his response to being accused of murder is believable, and the chemistry he has with the rest of the cast makes their interactions a treat to read.


If urban fantasy is your thing, I’d say “Witch Hunt” merits a look.