Tor, 2015, 320 pages
In the more shadowy corners of the world, frequented by angels and demons and everything in between, Laytham Ballard is a legend. It's said he raised the dead at the age of 10, stole the Philosopher's Stone in Vegas back in 1999, and survived the bloodsucking kiss of the Mosquito Queen. Wise in the hidden ways of the night, he's also a cynical bastard who stopped thinking of himself as the good guy a long time ago.
Now a promise to a dying friend has Ballard on the trail of an escaped Serbian war criminal with friends in both high and low places - and a sinister history of blood sacrifices. Ballard is hell-bent on making Dusan Slorzack pay for his numerous atrocities, but Slorzack seems to have literally dropped off the face of the Earth, beyond the reach of his enemies, the Illuminati, and maybe even the devil himself. To find Slorzack, Ballard must follow a winding, treacherous path that stretches from Wall Street and Washington, DC, to backwoods hollows and truck stops while risking what's left of his very soul....
I can't be bothered to give a detailed review of this. It served its purpose, but was totally forgettable. Laytham Ballard is another precocious preternaturally adept modern-day wizard, full of grimdark and angst over the deep dark things he did on his way to becoming a legend in the sorcerous underworld. The story is a grimdark revenge tale in which our protagonist goes a'huntin' for the monster (literal and figurative) who committed a long string of atrocities, first as a war criminal and then as a demon-god. What Ballard really cares about is that the Big Bad raped and killed the wife of a friend, whose dying wish, naturally, is for Ballard to go get some vengeance. So Ballard goes scouring all the deepest, darkest pits of the world, from his backwoods Appalachia home to the halls of power in Wall Street and Washington. There is of course BDSM sex between the 50-something protagonist and submissive hotties half his age, sorcerous duels with sociopathic Wall Street brokers connected to the Illuminati, and many references to named bands like Depeche Mode and Arcade Fire, which makes this book very much a dated piece of pop culture.
Like Harry Dresden, on whose coattails this first book in a series is obviously trying to catch a ride, Laytham Ballard is supposed to be one of the biggest badasses in the wizarding world, but spends much of the book being beaten down and tortured. R.S. Belcher goes into as much detail on the torture and S&M as he does the bands playing at the various clubs Ballard visits. Laytham Ballard, however, is no chivalrous white knight. In fact, he spends the entire book denying he has any good left in him, and frequently trying to prove it.
There were a few slightly clever bits of worldbuilding, and the writing was passable, but the story is just deals with the devil, magical duels, and spitting up gobbets of blood. If you love the genre, this book is probably entertaining enough, but it's got nothing new and did not induce in me any interest at all in the next book in the series. 5/10.