By David Dent
When I finished Kemble’s debut novel, last year’s ‘Strange Ink’ (Titan Books, 2018), I did that rare thing (for me anyway) of wanting to read a sequel involving the book’s hero Harry Hendrick, the down on his luck journalist turned emissary from the afterlife. Hendrick had survived explosions, political chicanery, a breakup with his partner and the arrival on his body of a number of unexplained tattoos and lived to tell the tale. And I wanted to read the next one.
A year on Hendrick is back, reconciled with his ex, Bec, and eager to find a new scoop to help him pay the bills again, his fame following his takedown of corrupt politicians being short-lived and decidedly non-lucrative. Following up on a cop pedophile story rapidly going nowhere, he begins instead to investigate a rash of suicides that have more than a whiff of the occult about them. This leads him to the door of dominatrix Mistress Hel, and into a savage web of desire and demons that look like it might culminate in his own end.
Once again Kemble gives a real sense of the dark underbelly of suburban Australia, peopled with everyday characters doing bad things to each other. The tattoos that had mysteriously appeared on his body have now largely disappeared, but in return, he seems to have picked up some skills from the soldier who possessed him in ‘Strange Ink.’ What convinces us about Hendrick is the believability of his moral choices. Does he do the right thing or listen to the siren call of darkness and abandon all restraint? We spend a lot of time with Harry in the book and ‘Dark Ink’ is where we really get to understand him.
Building to the inevitable standoff between Mistress Hel and, well pretty much everyone else, the author’s skill is that he keeps the horror grounded and avoids cliché. Kemble is a fine writer whose ability to scare us comes not only from the supernatural elements of his stories but the all too human evils and weaknesses of the characters within them. An excellent read.
Dark Ink by Gary Kemble is available now in paperback on Amazon Kindle.