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GRAVE MARKINGS Reviewed
by Michael A. Arnzen
You might call this novel by Michael Arnzen a tattooed thriller. Put out on the Dell Abyss imprint, it is categorized as a horror novel. The book not only explores the world of tattooing, albeit from a slightly fantastical point of view, but also the process of artistic creation.
Often you hear tattoo artists speak of customer’s who come in to get tattooed just for the sake of doing it. They want something on their skin and they aren’t leaving until they find the “perfect” something. And yet, the casual approach and “I want it right now” attitude are in complete contrast to the idea of wearing a design on your skin that is appropriate to you for the rest of your life.
We are introduced to tattooist Mark Michael Kilpatrick right away in this story. He believes in showing the truth in his art, even if the truth is an ugly reality. This belief has been at odds with the bulk of his tattoo clientele for some time now, people who come in and often just want something cute or pretty or common. When his attempts to educate people about art and skin art seem to be going nowhere, he decides to start teaching them a lesson.
For Sergeant John Lockerman, the case of tattooed bodies is one to solve and quickly, before another victim turns up. The case is a mystery: people turn up dead, covered in full-body tattoos so realistic that they border on horrific and all signs point to suicide by the victims themselves. It takes a personal bent early on for him when a prostitute who worked for him as an informant turns up covered over her entire body surface in sexual imagery.
Local newspaper man Roy Roberts agonizes over how to tell the stories of the victims, wanting to make sure their stories are told and honored, yet not wanting to feed the attention-seeking need of the rouge tattooist. His struggle to create honest and true writing is not entirely unlike Kilpatrick’s desire to create art and have it be recognized. His investigations into tattooing provide most of the technical detail for the reader as he educates himself as to why and how people get tattooed.
The one part where the reader really has to suspend their disbelief is in the killer’s ability to tattoo an entire body surface in a matter of hours. The creation of a portable tattoo machine out of an electric screwdriver is clever but not a true technical possibility however it lets the killer roam beyond his lair.
For fans of stories like THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, or the 2002 German movie TATTOO, or the tv show CSI, you’re going to like this one.
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