Strange Ink by Gary Kemble review

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By David Dent

With Gary Kemble’s new book, ‘Dark Ink’, about to be released by Titan Books in October 2019, I revisited his debut novel, ‘Strange Ink’ released last year.

Kemble was a new author to me: he’s previously published a number of short stories, which must have stood him in good stead for his first full-length fiction, a remarkably assured and stripped-down piece of writing which, as one of the jacket quotes states, grips from the first page.

Harry Hendrick is a down on his luck local newspaper journalist going nowhere fast. Left even more purposeless after a split with his girlfriend Bec, as we meet Harry he’s recovering after being on a wedding bender. But he becomes disturbed when he realizes that he’s acquired a very odd-looking tattoo on the back of his neck, and can’t remember where he had it done. And it won’t be the last, with his body gradually being covered in ink that collectively seems to tell a story, triggering in him a series of vivid and violent visions. Hendrick’s life is about to change out of all recognition, involving the resurrection of a town hall corruption story he’d researched as a rookie reporter, military horror in Afghanistan, and the slow realization that his body may no longer fully be his own.

‘Strange Ink’ opens boldly and incorporates a plot that is involving and creepily convincing without falling into the trap of being bogged down in detail. Hendrick’s character is completely believable, easily providing a suspension of disbelief at the strange arrival of yet another tattoo on his body, and his struggle to retain his identity and the battle of wills with someone who wants to use him is often terrifying.

This is also a great Australian novel, something rather rare in horror fiction. There’s an undeniable sense of place and atmosphere – set at Christmas but in the blinding heat – which adds to the book’s credibility, and Kemble fleshes out his novel with a small but well rendered set of characters who propel the narrative but allow Harry to remain center stage.
Based on the accomplishment of ‘Strange Ink’ the return of Harry Hendrick in Kemble’s follow up should be a must-read.

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