Friday, July 27, 2018


SKIN DEEP by Gary Kemble (Echo Publishing, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

When washed up journalist Harry Hendrick wakes with a hangover and a strange symbol tattooed on his neck, he shrugs it off as a bad night out. When more tattoos appear — accompanied by visions of war-torn Afghanistan, bikies, boat people, murder, bar fights and a mysterious woman — he begins to dig a little deeper.

Harry’s search leads him to Jess McGrath. She’s successful, married; they are drawn to each other though they have nothing in common but unwanted tattoos and high definition nightmares. Together, they edge closer to unearthing the truth behind the sinister disappearance of an SAS hero and his girlfriend Kyla.

There’s a federal election looming, with pundits tipping a landslide win for opposition leader Andrew Cardinal. Harry knows there’s a link between these disturbing visions and Cardinal's shadowy past, and is compelled to right wrongs, one way or another. 

Australian debutant Kemble blends dark mystery with a touch of the paranormal in this highly original and engaging read, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel and will become available for US readers later this year as STRANGE INK (Tor Books).

Jaded journalist Harry Hendrick was once a rising star, but his career was derailed and is now circling the drain in Brisbane. He’s meandering through life, a shell of his former self, and one morning he wakes from a hangover after a friend’s stag do with a strange symbol tattooed on his neck.

Harry writes it off as a stupid drunken choice, but then his mate Dave can’t remember anything about them going for a tattoo. It seems to have appeared out of nowhere and is followed by more tattoos and violent visions that seem to be tied to the war in Afghanistan. Something isn’t right. Then Dave meets Jess McGrath, a successful, married woman also suffering from mysterious tattoos and violent visions. As an election looms and the leading contender seems tied to their visions, Dave and Jess need to work out just what’s going on.

This is a smoothly written book with a highly original premise that could have stumbled, but debutant Kemble handles it well and makes it believable within the world of his novel. There are plenty of fascinating contemporary issues woven throughout the tale, and a great sense of place along with interesting characters. A novel that draws you in to begin with before building and building.

A good read from a very promising author. Another exhibit for the rise in antipodean noir.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. He’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at festivals on three continents. He's been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter

No comments:

Post a Comment