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Tabula Rasa

Bad Blood

By Gary Kemble, Echo Publishing, 2016

A Review by Kyla Lee Ward

A copy of this book was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
After the terrifying events of the previous book in this series, the journalist Harry Hendricks may believe that nothing can get under his skin.
"Men are so easy to control. It's so easy to get into their heads. I've been in your head this week, haven't I?"
He may be more confident than he used to be, but Harry's no fool. When a young man contacts him, claiming to have been sexually abused at an exclusive school, he knows he's starting on a dangerous path. When disparate suicides across Brisbane leave identical notes, claiming to act in the name of the Goddess, he knows that the world of magic and spirits is stirring once again. He's been training in the martial arts, but he knows when to reach out to his friends for help; Sandy, the psychic, and Dave, the medical student. The tattoo their last adventure left on the back of his neck is still providing protection. What he doesn't understand is that nothing avails against the evil you invite to enter.
Harry looked down. "Yes, Mistress."
The great strength of this book and the previous Skin Deep (Echo Publishing, 2015) is their psychological realism. Kemble persuades the supernatural to emerge from circumstances and emotions that are only too natural. The way unease seeps in, as coincidences mount up. The way the mind fights to maintain its boundaries, both of the real and of self. Grief. Guilt. Rage. What makes Harry such a compelling character is his strength, to be sure: his professionalism and flashes of insight. But it is his vulnerabilities that encourage the reader to accompany him on this chilling journey.
"Of course I have. And I'm going to stay there."
One of the most common complaints from people who "don't like horror", is that no one could actually enjoy exposure to such violence and cruelty unless they were in some way sick. In many ways, this is the theme of the book. Are there ways to legitimately enjoy receiving and inflicting pain? When does this cross over into sickness? When is violence justified? Cruel acts can sometimes be intended to help, or to prevent what seems to be a greater evil. Harry and Sandy find themselves with some hard decisions to make. And this book does treat of paedophilia. You are warned although Kemble cleverly implies the worst without imposing it on the reader, this is a confronting piece. But those willing to suffer exposure will be rewarded with an exploration that avoids cheap answers and offensive equivalencies.
"Are you ready?"
The essential character of Brisbane plays the same vital role in this volume as it did in the first. In fact, it would be interesting to see how Harry copes, should he ever leave his home town. From the hipster bars of the inner city to the ostensibly bland streets of suburbia, to a heart-in-mouth expedition into the depths of Toowong cemetery: the concatenation of setting and action is the heart of the gothic. Echo Publishing describes this book as a genre-bending thriller. I describe it as muscular gothic, buffed by all the running, shooting and wrestling this thoroughly contemporary milieu demands.
"Yes, Mistress."
When his ex-girlfriend, Bec, re-enters Harry's life, the tension winds a whole notch higher. Will their connection expose her to the same dangers he now faces? Will he even be able to warn her, without losing her forever? But, when facing the darkness, all we truly have are the connections we have formed, whether these are sick, or not.

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