Written by Gary Kemble. RRP £7.99 320 pp

Out October 8th from Titan Books


The second in a series of books featuring Australian journalist Harry Hendricks continues the series of supernatural shenanigans he now finds himself regularly embroiled in since the events of the first book STRANGE INK. The melding of the horror and crime fiction genres in that book made for an entertaining page-turner which made great use of its unfamiliar Australian locations as well as looking at hot button topics of immigration and the rise of populist right-wing politicians.


The previous book's events which are almost reiterated in full here involved small-time journalist Harry coming into possession of mysteriously appearing tattoos courtesy of an angry spirit looking for vengeance. This time around, Harry finds himself being asked to look into a series of mysterious suicides involving several seemingly unconnected men. Digging into the deaths, Harry discovers that a dominatrix may have the key to their shocking deaths, a shadowy figure who may also be leading Harry back into the realm of the supernatural.


Added to the mix of crime and horror here is a dash of Fifty Shades style kink that sadly makes DARK INK a less interesting experience. Kemble manages to keep the reader turning the pages as the plot rattles along but the characters he re-introduces here, as well as those making their first appearance, never develop and remain one-note and quite bland. Added to these issues is a tasteless subplot involving a paedophile ring that never delves into or feels the need to explore the full horror of such a situation, only using it as a cheap plot device and catalyst for a predictable revenge storyline.


Particularly underwritten are the main female characters. Mistress Hel, the dominatrix, is an evil succubus who uses sex as a tool to manipulate her clients, and that is it. In contrast, there is Bec, Harry's ex-girlfriend who wants to reunite with him. Bec is the kind of girl who wants to settle down and seems to agree with everything and understand Harry's motives without question.


Kemble is far better with the crime elements than the horror elements, something that is also repeated from the first novel. He has a knack for keeping the reader guessing, and he also proves his worth when writing an action sequence, particularly when it comes to hand to hand combat scenes. A shame then that he is far more interested in Harry's obsession with Mistress Hel, resulting in numerous scenes where Harry feels compelled to masturbate vigorously. Once is enough and by the time it gets to the third or fourth time the book slips into becoming an unintentional parody of itself.


Perhaps the next entry will get things back on track but if you were a fan of the STRANGE INK, this second entry is unessential. It is depressingly shallow stuff that reveals the author's limitations when it comes to female characters and in the case of Mistress Hel demonises sex workers. And when it comes to the more serious aspects of the story, it fails completely and only reveals Kemble's lack of empathy for such situations or the victims.


Iain MacLeod






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FrightFest is the registered trade mark of London FrightFest Limited.
 © 2000 - 2018