The Curse Merchant (The Dark Choir #1) by J.P. Sloan – Review/Excerpt
Series: The Dark Choir #1
Author: J.P. Sloan
Genre: Urban Fantasy Noir
Dorian Lakehas spent years cornering the Baltimore hex-crafting market, using his skills at the hermetic arts to exact karmic justice for those whom the system has failed. He keeps his magic clean and free of soul-corrupting Netherwork, thus avoiding both the karmic blow-back of his practice and the notice of the Presidium, a powerful cabal of practitioners that polices the esoteric arts in America. However, when an unscrupulous Netherworker interferes with both his business and his personal life, Dorian’s disarming charisma and hermetic savvy may not be enough to keep his soul out of jeopardy.
His rival, a soul monger named Neil Osterhaus, wouldn’t be such a problem were it not for Carmen, Dorian’s captivating ex-lover. After two years’ absence Carmen arrives at Dorian’s doorstep with a problem: she sold her soul to Osterhaus, and has only two weeks to buy it back. Hoping to win back Carmen’s affections, Dorian must find a replacement soul without tainting his own. As Dorian descends into the shadows of Baltimore’s underworld, he must decide how low he is willing to stoop in order to save Carmen from eternal damnation… with the Presidium watching, waiting for him to cross the line.
Carmen Gomez stood in front of me, hands on hips caressed by an emerald evening gown. Long raven black hair spilled over her shoulders, feathered bangs framing long, elegant eyes alive with seething hostility. The corner of her mouth was twitching. I had learned long ago that was a sign she was trying to keep her head from exploding.
“Well what? Had a rough day.”
“So, in cases of acute ‘Almost Got Your Head Blown Off’, four out of five doctors recommend Shitface.” I lifted my glass to her and added, “So, cheers.”
She squinted hard at me.
“We discussed this, Dorian. You’re not supposed to be here.”
That damned stabbing headache kept me from coming up with a clever response, so I just rolled my eyes.
Carmen reached out and snatched the glass from my hand, slapping it down onto the bar with enough force to make me check my arm for shrapnel.
“I was drinking that.”
“You’re done. Goodbye, Dorian.”
“Christ, Carmen. I didn’t come here to spite you. Seriously.” I rubbed the bridge of my nose to ease the pressure and swiveled back to the bar. “Ben?”
He was towel-drying a martini glass with his back turned to me. Coward.
Carmen huffed. “You’re the last thing I need to deal with right now, Dorian. Please just honor your word for once, and go. You owe me that.”
I put tremendous effort into remembering what word I had given. Then it came to me. I felt my shoulders wilt as my ego deflated.
“I suppose I do.” I reached over for my glass, and drained the last of my scotch.
She stepped around my stool and waved at the glass. “What are you doing?”
“I’m leaving. Jesus.”
“You just tossed back an entire fistful of that hooch!”
“Hooch? Are you kidding me? This is Vintage Seventy-Eight–”
She shook her head with a smirk. “God, you’re such a snob about your liquor.”
“Any idea how much that ‘hooch’ costs?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. I was here when you got conned into buying it.”
“It’s my money.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s your father’s money, is what I mean.”
“Well, thank you for bringing that up, because my day didn’t suck enough.”
“What, I’m supposed to feel sorry for you? Know how much my papa left me when he died? Nada. I had to work, Dorian. I worked, and I made something of myself. I didn’t pay dues to clubs I couldn’t afford. I didn’t buy expensive booze or German cars. So you had a bad day? Congratulations.”
I peered through the headache into her livid eyes.
“Your dad didn’t eat a bullet, Carmen.”
More memories flooded into my addled brain, and I willed them away, spinning off of the stool.
“Where are you going?” she snapped.
“Again, with the leaving.”
“Well, you can’t leave now. You just pounded scotch.” She sighed and shook her head. “You’ll have to wait, now.”
“Because I’m not letting you drive, that’s why.”
As I slumped back down onto the stool, I caught Ben snickering in the corner of the bar.
“Can I get some water, Ben? Apparently I can’t hold my scotch anymore.”
Carmen muttered something in Spanish under her breath as she put fingers to her temples.
“We had a problem in May with one of the members. He got in a wreck on Charles and we had issues with the Beverage Control board. Scared away a lot of the regulars.”
“Yeah, kind of noticed that.”
“I don’t need more problems. So just sit right there and don’t move. You can go when Ben says.”
One of the girls approached Carmen from behind. Carmen stepped aside to speak with her. I checked Bright and his pride of professionals. They all were eyeballing me thanks to Carmen’s usual lack of volume control.
Carmen gestured to them with authority, and the girl stepped away with verve. Carmen’s eyes followed her across the room as she joined Bright’s party. The only party, actually.
Then it occurred to me.
Why was Carmen giving the girls marching orders?
“Carmen? Where’s Mama Clo?”
She closed her eyes for one long blink, then looked down at her shoes.
“Sick? Is it bad?”
“Yes, Dorian, it’s bad.” She inched backward and leaned against the bar. “She’s in a hospice at Johns Hopkins.”
“What is it?”
I sucked in a long breath. “Damn.”
“She asked me to take over for a few weeks, she said, last August. By Christmas, we all figured she wasn’t coming back. When I went to visit, she asked me to take care of the girls for her.”
I took a sip of the water Ben had provided, watching the room. More memories of the glory days came spilling into my frontal lobes. There was a lot of laughter then. This whole place was lighter. Not dead and dreary.
I caught Carmen looking at me.
“What’s this about getting your head blown off?”
I will have to say that I don’t read Urban Fantasy much, okay never but the blurb of The Curse Merchant got my attention so off I went to read. I’m really glad that I did. Mr. Sloan writes a different kind of novel that took to places that I would have never dreamed of.
Dorian is a hex/charm merchant in the city of Baltimore. With business slowing, his ex-lover comes to him and tells him that she sold her soul and has two weeks to get it back. Racing against the clock, Dorian works to restore her soul and not to taint his in return.
The is a fast paced novel to read. Please leave any expectations at the door. Mr. Sloan weaves a wonderful tale of urban fantasy in a world that left me breathless. Its atmospheric in nature and in some places you might shake your head but keep reading. Trust me. The dialogue alone will keep you engaged. Witty but realistic.
Dorian is such a great character. He has integrity, realistic and well drawn. The secondary characters are great too. None of the characters in this book are two dimensional. Everyone evolves in the book and is three dimensional. I like it when I can actually connect with the secondary characters that are not just there for decoration.
Fair warning…this book talks about the occult, charms, hexes and karma. It doesn’t deal with voodoo or anything like that. Its basic but its so rich and interesting that pretty soon you will become a believer.
I look forward to reading more about Dorian in the future. Thank goodness this is only book #1.
I am a storyteller, eager to transport the reader to strange yet familiar worlds. My writing is dark, fantastical, at times stretching the limits of the human experience, and other times hinting at the monsters lurking under your bed. I write science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, and several shades in between.
I am a husband and a father, living in the “wine country” of central Maryland. I’m surrounded by grapevines and cows. During the day I commute to Baltimore, and somehow manage to escape each afternoon with only minor scrapes and bruises. I am also a homebrewer and a certified beer judge. My avocations dovetail nicely!