DARK INK by Gary Kemble
Titan, p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
It is very easy to forget that there other places that the USA or England that has huge urban sprawls with all the variations in life-style and status as London, Los Angeles or New York, and where the dominant language is English. It is therefore refreshing to be able to read about a place that is familiar and alien.
This, and Kemble’s earlier novel Strange Ink, is set in Brisbane, Australia, but it has all the hallmarks of a good urban fantasy. This is not the usual urban fantasy peppered with vampires and werewolves – it is more subtle than that. Harry Hendrick is a journalist. A year previously, he had broken the biggest story of his career – with supernatural intervention – and broken up with his girlfriend, Bec. At the end, he had been left with a tattoo on the back of his neck that seemed to leave him open to occult experiences.
Near the start of Dark Ink, three significant things happen. The first that Phil, a long-standing contact from the Queensland Police Media Unit, asks for his help in investigating a series of apparently unconnected deaths. Secondly, Bec contacts him and wants to meet up. Third, an intriguing email from a stranger asking to find out what her husband is up to. Lee-Anne Stewart thinks he is using union money to finance his extra-marital sex-life. As such, it is in the public interest for Harry to investigate.
As might be expected in tightly plotted supernatural thriller there are coincidences – there would be no story without them. As Harry follows Lee-Anne’s husband, he is led to a house owned by a ‘sex goddess’ who has her customers in thrall to her. He then discovers that the bizarre deaths Phil has asked him to look into, were customers of hers and that there is black magic involved.
Like most of the lead characters in crime thrillers, Harry is a flawed character. His problem is that he keeps making wrong decisions. As a result, he finds himself in thrall to the witch, who styles herself Mistress Hel. That has a knock-on effect on the rekindling of his relationship with Bec. It is a good thing that he has friends looking-out for him.
Just to complicate matters, there is another, potential scoop running in the background. He is approached by a young man who calls himself Johnny who claims to have been abused while at school and that one of the gang is a high profile policeman. A good story if it is true.
Tattoos do play a part in the story. Harry hasn’t quite worked out what the one on his neck does, though it does seem to give him some warning when magic is involved – not that he takes much notice of it – and at one point he has birds tattooed on the backs of his hands with the idea that the pain will reduce the influence mistress Hel is having over him. Since they were such a large factor in the first novel, it would have been nice if they had a stronger influence in this one as well.