Strange Ink

By Gary Kemble

Strange Ink, a novel by Gary Kemble
Book details

Getting a few tattoo can be a thrill. It is going to hurt, but for many that is part of the joy. Think for a moment about that poor sap who wakes up after a heavy drinking session with a new tat. Not only did they miss out on the anticipation, they also probably have no idea what they got. Tattoo me drunk once, shame on you. Tattoo me drunk twice, shame on me. Harry Hendrick keeps waking up with new tattoos he does not remember getting and he hasn’t even been drinking. Where is the fun in that?

With a job at the local newspaper, reporter Harry Hendrick is in a slump. So much so, that his long-term girlfriend has split and he has moved into a ramshackle new house with surprisingly reasonable rent. Harry starts to realise that there may be a reason why the house is so cheap when he wakes up after a nightmare to find himself with a new tattoo. With the tattoo comes memories of a former life and a crime unsolved. Is Harry going mad or has he stumbled across the story that may just jumpstart his career?

Gary Kemble has done a very smart thing in Strange Ink by creating a character that can be both the victim and the investigator. As a fallen Investigative Journalist, Harry has the chops to figure out what is going on with his body. On the surface, this book is a horror novel. The idea that you should wake after vivid nightmares to discover freshly tainted skin is body horror to a tee. However, the book is more of a crime novel with supernatural elements. Like many a crime story, there are clues to be found, these ones just come from beyond the grave.

Strange is at its best when Harry finds himself is in his element. The book’s structure means that it starts with a slow burn as Harry realises what is happening to him is strange, but real. He has to put aside his personal demons and discover the truth. Both elements of the book work well; the slow reveal of where these nightmares and tattoos came from and the later action packed detective element.

Set in Australia, the book has a slightly different feel to the UK or US based fantasy horror that you read. It feels like it could be set in any British city, but there are cultural elements that do not chime. Harry can be a little hard to like at first. Self-absorbed and vulnerable, but still a heavy drinker and willing to hang out with misogynists. The horror that he suffers becomes the making of the man. He is forced to reflect and do something that is life or death.

Like any good detective novel, it is important that the writer is able to make the mundane process of the investigation readable. Kemble certainly achieves this as he makes Harry’s rather dry life as a journalist feel realistic and interesting. I would be quite happy just to follow Harry around the city chasing stories; all the murders and mystical tattoos are just a bonus.

As the jumping point for a series, Strange is a great introduction to Harry’s world and the stories will go on from strength to strength. Harry is now able to use the experiences he has gained from his own supernatural exposure to help others. With some mild horror, there is not a huge amount here that will scare a reader, but the action and crime story will certainly have you turning the pages.

Written on 1st September 2019 by .

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