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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Strange Ink by Gary Kemble

I recommend this because: it’s a well crafted book which, whilst a little slow to start, has weird things happening at every turn, rapidly depositing you into the midst of this seamlessly blended dark thriller, with criminal, political, military and supernatural elements intertwined throughout.



Deeper Dive:

In truth, it’s been a while since I’ve picked up a horror book to read, as I can be quite picky about *my* brand of horror, preferring a bent towards the supernatural, the occult and a bit more psychological than gore-ridden, which can be a tall order to fulfil. Having heard some good things from people I know, however, I jumped at the chance to give Strange Ink a go, and I am very glad I did.

The cover was the first thing to grab me, as it’s high contrast of black on white with red highlights paint an intriguing image. Is this the tattoo mentioned in the blurb? Are there clues to the main story? Skulls and poppies; both common tattoo requests, beautifully brought together by means of a watercolour style blood spatter and gunshot residue – colour me interested!

The prologue begins with a grisly scene being depicted in detail. A man is being buried, but not before he’s mutilated, and he is acutely aware of every single thing happening to him, and now, so are we.

Not quite so for Harry Hendrick though, who has woken up with the mother of all hangovers, and is in pain, wondering what the hell happened last night. As Harry realises that he’s woken up with a tattoo he starts to piece together fragments of the nightmare he had (and we’ve just witnessed in the opening). I will say here, that Kemble uses this tool to great effect, giving a great noir feel to the story, and allowing things to fall into place piece by piece, and layer by layer.

Harry is at a particularly low point in his life when we first meet him. He’s split up with Bec, his long-term girlfriend, moved out into a rather run-down old house in the suburbs (with surprisingly reasonable rent) his best friend Dave is about to get married (hence the hangover, which we soon find out is due to Dave’s ‘buck’s night’ a.k.a Stag Do) and things at the local paper are mediocre at best. A promising journalist back in the day, we learn that whilst he was still studying he uncovered a career making story, which was promptly buried, and Harry never really recovered from this.

As he begins to piece together the broken fragments of his nightmare, we witness him slowly coming to terms with the idea that what he’s seeing in his dreams may in fact be real. Especially when the nightmare changes, and a new tattoo appears.

Without giving too much away, we follow Harry’s investigation into the story that’s emerging from the strange ink appearing on him from nowhere, juxtaposed against his normal mundane day-to-day survival, which abruptly pervades  into both his own past, and a chance for him to revive his failing career, taking us into war-zones, international crime, biker gangs  and political corruption, as well as some more oddities along the way, building to an action packed climax with Harry’s battle for the truth, and justice for the horrible crimes he’s witnessed via his experiences coming to a head.

The one minor niggle for me when reading, which if I’d known before wouldn’t even be that… The story could be set in any major city, but is actually set in Brisbane, Australia, which leads to a few Aussie specific acronyms and colloquialisms which did throw me out of the story a little because I couldn’t work out what they were immediately, so if that might do the same for you, be sure to have google nearby. They were all towards the beginning though, so I didn’t find they interrupted the story as it picked up the pace.

It’s clear that Kemble has done his research when looking at his story, and his attention to detail really shines through, especially when describing some of the military aspects and in the action sequences. He creates a brilliantly intriguing story which like a runaway train, starts a little slowly but builds and builds momentum before impact and I for one really enjoyed reclaiming the feeling of a book I really hated having to put down to deal with real life, and can’t wait to see what’s next in the life of Harry Hendrick.


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