Every picture tells a story, which is fine if those pictures aren’t inexplicably appearing as tattoos on your body and, together with the horrific nightmares you’ve been having, seem to be tormented messages from someone or something beyond the grave. But what do the dead want you to do for them, and why are you the one who’s been chosen to do it?
That’s the question down-on-his-luck journalist Harry Hendrick has to answer. When the first tattoo appears he puts it down to a bad night out on the town even though everyone he speaks to seems to think the tattoo on his neck is more specialist than anything he’d ever have drunkenly received at 3am from a backstreet skin artist. No, this tattoo is some kind of exotic occult sigil and it is extremely specialist work. But then more nightmares and tattoos quickly follow – a disaster at sea when he seems to be observing everything through the eyes of an Australian soldier, a massacre in war-torn Afghanistan and the repeated memory of being buried alive… no, not alive… his killers made a mess of him and are slicing every tattoo off his body in an attempt to get rid of the evidence but, somehow, he can still see and hear everything. And then there’s the mystery of the SAS hero who disappeared under sinister circumstances, and the pressing ‘real world’ problem of a dodgy politician whose sudden interest in the city’s heritage doesn’t quite seem to be ringing true. As Harry searches for answers, the incursions of the dead upon both his flesh and his everyday life become increasingly more violent and insistent…
Strange Ink is an ambitious novel that frequently reads like an Andy McNab version of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. It’s not an overly original premise but author Gary Kemble writes so well and keeps everything moving so quickly that it’s easy to forgive the deja-vu-ness of Strange Ink’s concept, and even though Harry Hendrick isn’t the most compelling washed-up leading man we’ve ever met Kemble lays in enough subtle quirks to keep him likeable and interesting. He writes his battle scenes well and the switches between POV as Hendrick struggles to make sense of his nightmares – staying a conscious part of the action while still being aware of another’s mind inside his own – are skilfully achieved. Unfortunately though, it doesn’t deliver in the way a true horror story should. For a novel that’s all about the nightmares that get under your skin, there’s nothing about Strange Ink that will keep you awake at night beyond the disturbing visuals in the opening pages. It’s a slam-bang of a beginning that is never quite matched by anything else that follows, and that’s probably the biggest shocker of all.
STRANGE INK / AUTHOR: GARY KEMBLE / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 9TH