As I’ve written here before, I have no problem with horror writers falling back on the well-worn tropes. Zombies? Vampires? Whatever. As long as the books are a good read, I’m cool with it.
It’s kind of like when I watch “Rio Bravo.” I don’t care that it’s one of approximately 500 gazillion studio westerns produced in the 1950s. All I care about is that it’s a damn good movie.
Still, it’s refreshing and gratifying to see a writer come up with a unique concept, and knock it out of the park. Which is what Damien Walters Grintalis does with her book “Ink,” from Samhain Publishing.
The story is about a guy who gets a haunted tattoo.
Offhand, the only haunted tattoo stories I can think of are “The Tattooer” by Junichiro Tanizaki, and the “Never Again” episode of the X-Files. (Classics, both.) And both took extremely different approaches to their respective narratives.
Originality alone isn’t going to carry it, of course. Fortunately, “Ink” is also suspenseful, well-crafted and REALLY freakin eerie.
The story concerns Jason, who is still in the fuck-it-all phase of disorientation after his wife walks out on him. He decides to get a tattoo – which turns out to be a strikingly realistic portrayal of a griffin.
The tattoo artist, by the way, smells suspiciously of ash and cinder, and goes by the name “John S. Iblis.” As you might guess, things ain’t gonna turn out so good.
Grintalis clues you in from from the beginning that this is a deal-with-the-devil story, so I’m not really giving away any spoilers here. Beyond that, I don’t want to reveal any plot details because it veers in some unexpected directions.
Criticisms? I guess this isn’t a criticism so much as a matter of projecting my own preferences on another writer’s work. Self-indulgence, thy name is blogging.
Grintalis’ devil is more of a straight-up predator than a righteous distributor of ironic punishments. Nevertheless, Jason is a bit too much of an innocent victim for my tastes. In deal-with-the-devil stories, I prefer protagonists who are more complicit in their plight.
We’ve all got that snaky impulse in the back of our brains, telling us we could get everything we want out of life if only we’d banish those pesky morals. We’d never give in to that temptation, of course … or would we? In deal-with-the-devil stories going back to Faust, it’s guilty fun watching morally flawed protagonists – even sympathetic ones – momentarily give in and reap the benefits before the inevitable buyer’s remorse creeps in.
But the book offers plenty of other rewards. For a horror fan, in fact, it’s a virtual smorgasbord.
I was really impressed with the variety of scares Grintalis was able to get out of her basic premise.
She’s got monsters and ghosts. She’s got hallucinatory sequences, rendered with a surreal, nightmarish touch that would do any J-horror director proud.
She’s also got a good deal of David Cronenberg-style body horror. Hardened horror fan (and consummate badass) that I am, I don’t often physically cringe at a book. But Grintalis made me cringe several times. That’s a good thing, by the way.
Heck, she even manages to throw a creepy kid into the mix.
This is her first novel, I should add. I look forward to seeing what she comes out with in the future. Even if some tattoo artist professional groups are likely dreading the prospect.