- Strange Ink.
- Gary Kemble.
- 400 pages.
- Horror / Supernatural Thriller / Fiction.
- My Rating: It’s OK Book Review.
When washed-up journalist Harry Hendrick wakes one morning with a hangover and a strange symbol tattooed on his neck, he shrugs it off as a bad night out. But soon more tattoos appear: grisly, violent images which come accompanied by horrific nightmares so he begins to dig deeper. Harry’s search leads him to a sinister disappearance, torment from beyond the grave, and a web of corruption and violence tangled with his own past. One way or another, he has to right the wrongs.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Harry Hendrick is a reporter working for the Chermside Chronicle, a local weekly newspaper in Brisbane, Australia. When he was studying journalism at university Harry found a story involving corruption and the local land developers that would have been huge and that would have seen him upon graduation working for one of the large and respected newspapers. It would have been ‘the‘ story that made Harry. Unfortunately, the story was debunked, testimonials recanted and documents deemed falsified, Harry made enemies and before it had even started his journalistic career took a massive nosedive and has failed to recover. That’s why now in his mid-thirties when others have gone on to bigger and better things Harry is still reporting on local fluff pieces at the local weekly newspaper as out of university it was the only job that he could get and he’s stayed there ever since.
Harry has recently broken up with Bec, his girlfriend after six years together and has moved into a new house. One of his friends, Dave is getting married and on the buck’s night (stag party) the group get up to all of the usual stuff, boozing, partying, strip clubs and the following morning with a massive hangover Harry wakes up with remnants of a nightmare where he is being buried needling his brain and with a mysterious symbol tattooed on the back of his neck.
Harry has no recollection of getting the tattoo, he was drunk but surely he’d remember getting a tattoo?! Photographs taken on the bucks night reveal nothing and his investigations into how he got the tattoo are also a dead-end with the local tattoo parlour denying any knowledge of tattooing Harry. Best to chalk it up to a stupid mistake made by being absolutely wasted and move on with life.
But then Harry has another nightmare, sweating, waking in fright, wondering where he is and with pain radiating from his body and, again, this nightmare is accompanied by another grisly new tattoo. What’s more, the tattoo depicts a scene from the nightmare, drowning bodies of refugees in a churning sea.
A few days later and yet another nightmare and another new tattoo for Harry. It’s not the same nightmare, again, it’s different and with each new nightmare and tattoo, they are becoming more vivid. Harry can recollect more and they seem to be someone else’s memories rather than a by-product of his own mental state. This time the nightmare transported Harry to war-torn Afghanistan as a soldier where he witnessed a heinous atrocity in a poppy field and he awakens with red poppies and skulls tattooed on him.
There’s a scratching noise under Harry’s house, his car battery keeps dying, he takes up running (which is not a Harry trait) and he is having thoughts that are not his own and all these elements add to the unease that Harry feels.
Ultimately, Harry begins to realise that with each new nightmare and the resulting horrific new tattoo that accompanies it that a tragic story is being pieced together. A tragic story that is being told through the ink, through the images that the tattoos depict upon his skin and it is up to Harry to uncover the truth behind the tattoos and what happened to the person that they originally belonged to.
At the same time as Harry is dealing with the fallout from the mysteriously appearing tattoos the election to crown Australia’s next Prime Minister is going on with a renowned war veteran the hot favourite to win by a landslide. Harry is also continuing to report for the local newspaper and one of the stories that he is currently reporting on involves saving and preserving the local water tower instead of letting yet another landmark fall, fade to memory to make way for yet another modern new development.
Biker gangs, drugs, corruption, greed, the horrors of war, the water tower, politics and the presidential candidate all have a part to play in the dark narrative. As Harry digs deeper the story strands that at first appear to be disparate pieces all come together. Once together they form a dangerous whole and build to a gripping culmination of the story told by Kemble.
The cover to Strange Ink is absolutely killer, the book features tattoos and the story sounded like it would dwell deep in the darkness. Those are things that should have made the book a ‘must-read‘ for me. Sadly, it wasn’t and I found Strange Ink to be rather hit-or-miss. It was a good 150-200 pages before I started to actually enjoy the book. Honestly, at one point, I was sceptical as to whether or not I’d even finish reading it and I considered giving up as I just wasn’t connecting with the book (both the character of Harry who I initially found unlikeable and the story) but I powered through. Now, after finishing, I’m glad that I persevered as after my initial apprehension Strange Ink turned into a creepy, dark and worthwhile read.
I think partly that I went into Strange Ink expecting something different to what I got. I expected full-blown horror and whilst there are the mysteriously appearing tattoos, old protection magic and possession with spirits from beyond the grave out for vengeance the book for most of its length is very low on outright scares and is far more in the vein of a thriller than horror. It’s perhaps best to dub Strange Ink as a supernatural thriller but a thriller nonetheless and not horror.
Strange Ink is a promising debut by Kemble with an intriguing story but, for me, it was definitely a book of two halves. I really struggled with the first half but along the way, as the tattoos and the resulting nightmares became more prominent and as the full story became clearer Strange Ink grew on me (as did Harry) and I enjoyed the fast-paced and tension-filled second half far more than I did the first half of the book.
Purchase Strange Ink.
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