Publisher: Macmillan Audio (Audiobook – 17 November 2020)
Series: Standalone/Pine Deep series
Length: 15 hours and 9 minutes
My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars
Prepare to journey back to the weirdly dangerous town of Pine Deep as one of my favourite authors, Jonathan Maberry, presents his latest novel, Ink, an intriguing and clever horror thriller that dives down into the world of memories and tattoos.
Pine Deep, Pennsylvania is a town long-steeped in blood and death. After barely surviving the terrible events of 15 years ago, now known by the locals as The Trouble, the town has slowly recovered, with fresh businesses and people bringing in new life. However, no one is ever truly safe in Pine Deep, especially with a malicious predator haunting the streets, one with very particular appetites.
Monk Addison is man who has experienced many weird and horrifying things in his life, but what he is about to encounter in Pine Deep will shake him to his core. A bounty hunter who has sought redemption in life by covering his body with tattoos depicting the faces of murder victims, Monk has recently moved to Pine Deep to be closer to his friend and tattoo-artist Patty Cakes, but what he arrives he finds Patty in a state of shock. An important tattoo on Patty’s hand has started to disappear, and as it fades, so do the memories associated with it until Patty can no longer remember anything about, not even the precious person who inspired it.
As Monk desperately tries to understand what is happening to his friend, a pattern begins to emerge. Several people within Pine Deep are experiencing losses of traumatic or significant memories, and in every case tattoos related to these events have also disappeared. Worse, in some cases new tattoos are appearing on people, forcing them to do terrible deeds. Working with Pine Deep’s chief of police, Malcolm Crow, and his adopted son, Mike Sweeney, Monk, Patty and other impacted residents of Pine Deep attempt to discover who or what is behind these stolen memories. But can they find who is responsible before their memories fade, or will this predator continue to feast on the very thing that makes them human? The Lord of the Flies is hungry, and his reign of terror has only just begun!
Over the last couple of years, I have become a major fan of Jonathan Maberry’s writings, and I only just recently finished reading all 10 Joe Ledger novels, as well as the first Rogue Team International book, Rage, so I was very excited to get my next fix of Maberry excitement with Ink. Ink was one of my most anticipated novels for the second half of 2020, and it really did not disappoint in any way, as Maberry has produced an intense and captivating horror novel that proved to be both extremely exciting and deeply terrifying.
Ink is an outstanding and impressive book that contains one heck of a story that sees several remarkable characters attempt to deal with a weird and powerfully scary supernatural threat that is attempting to destroy what is most precious to them. Maberry has crafted together a fantastic narrative for this book that is equal parts clever, compelling and scary, and which dives down deep into the psyche of several complex individuals. The author utilises his trademark style to produce a wide-ranging, multi-character story that shows the full impact of the antagonist’s dark machinations, and the slow hunt of the protagonists to comprehend what is happening to them, and their subsequent attempts to combat the threat. While I did think that the story was a little slow at the start, once it gets going the reader has a hard time putting it down, as they become obsessed with seeing the full extent of the horror, as well as becoming connected to the characters featured within. While Ink contains a lot less action than a typical Maberry novel, this is an extremely exciting and fast-paced read, with the thrilling game of cat and mouse between the villain and his victims proving to be quite intense. Readers should be warned that this is an extremely adult read, containing some fairly graphic sequences of violence, torture, mental manipulation and sexual content, which may not be for everyone. Overall though, this is an exceptional read, and I really loved getting to the end of this enthralling and excellent narrative.
While Ink is ostensibly a standalone novel, in many ways it is a sequel to Maberry’s debut series, the Pine Deep trilogy, while also being set in the same universe as several of his other books, namely the Joe Ledger novels. The entirety of Ink is set in the town of Pine Deep, which was the titular setting of the original trilogy. As a result, several characters from these books appear throughout the course of the novel and there are a lot of mentions of the events of the Pine Deep trilogy, some of which play into the plot. While you potentially could get a little more out of Ink by reading the Pine Deep novels first, I would say that you really do not need any prior knowledge of these books to enjoy Maberry’s latest novel. Like always, Maberry’s writing is very inclusive, providing the reader with relevant information about the events that occurred in these previous novels. As a result, the reader gets a decent summary of what occurred in the Pine Deep trilogy and how it relates to Ink. This allows readers unfamiliar with the Pine Deep books to enjoy Ink without any issues, and this might even be a good Maberry starter novel for anyone who has been interested in reading some of his books. On the other hand, those fans of Maberry who are familiar with this prior trilogy will no doubt really enjoy the return to this iconic setting and will have an amazing time seeing what has happened in the 15 years following the end of Bad Moon Rising (the third and final book in the Pine Deep trilogy). The summaries of the Pine Deep novels contained within Ink are rather easy to get through and Maberry works them into the story extremely well, so those people familiar with these prior works should be able to read them without getting bored of a forced recap, and this is book that any horror or thriller fan can easily enjoy.
At the heart of Ink are the excellent main point-of-view characters that Maberry utilises to tell his complex tale. There are several major characters featured throughout the book, including several original characters created specifically for Ink. The most notable of these is Monk Addison, the relentless and scary former soldier who is desperately seeking redemption after a long and bloody life. Monk turned out to be an amazing central character for this book and I loved the way that Maberry slowly revealed his past in order to show just how special he his. Monk goes through a fair bit of development in this novel, and I found myself getting quite attached to him as the story progressed. In addition to Monk, Ink also has a particular focus on Patty Cakes, Monk’s tattoo artist friend whose memories are impacted by the book’s antagonist. Patty is a deeply tragic and magical character who has gone through a lot in her life and who now finds herself being attacked in a much more personal and devastating way. Seeing Patty being overwhelmed by the loss of her memories is really disturbing and heartbreaking and you cannot help but feel her loss deep in your soul, which is a testament to Maberry’s excellent writing. Patty is another character who you grow to care for as the story unfolds and the constant danger she is put into, both mentally and physically, keeps the reader on edge. The other two original major characters I need to highlight are Dianna and Gayle. Dianna is a medium who also has her memories stolen by Ink’s antagonist, while Gayle is someone who builds a connection to Dianna, who is then impacted by Gayle’s lost memories in a different way. I liked the way that Dianna and Gayle were worked into the story, and they helped to provide a new angle to the narrative. Watching them team up with Patty added some enjoyable female empowerment elements to the novel, and there is a touching LGBT romance between Dianne and Gayle that I thought Maberry handled well, even if it was a tad explicit.
In addition to these new characters, Maberry also makes use of the protagonists from the Pine Deep novels who return as major characters in Ink. This includes major characters Malcolm Crow, Mike Sweeney, Val Guthrie and Jonatha Corbiel (now Jonatha Newton). While Val and Jonatha have mostly smaller roles in this book, Malcolm and Mike are major point-of-view characters, performing their own investigation of the latest batch of weird events occurring around Pine Deep. Both proved to be exceptional additions to the cast, as not only are they complex characters (especially after the events of the Pine Deep trilogy), but they also add some distinctive viewpoints into the investigate parts of the book. Maberry does a fantastic job introducing these characters to new readers, while those who have read the Pine Deep books will deeply appreciate seeing what has happened to them since the events of this initial trilogy. While I am sure that many of Maberry’s readers would have hoped for happy lives for Malcolm, Mike and Val after all they have been through, all three characters have experienced additional difficulties and tragedies in the last 15 years. These additional life events, as well as their traumas from the Pine Deep books, are expertly incorporated into their characterisation for Ink, and it proved deeply compelling to see their arcs unfold. I personally enjoyed seeing the new protagonists’ reactions when encountering Malcolm and Mike, and there are a lot of depictions about realising how dark, dangerous and damaged both of them are. Some of these new characters are also in for a hair-raising surprise when it comes to Mike, and it was interesting to see how that certain aspect of Mike’s character has evolved since his last book. All of the characters featured in Ink were deeply compelling, and I felt that Maberry did an exceptional job featuring them throughout this novel.
If there is one thing that Maberry is particularly good at it, it is creating iconic and despicable antagonists for his novels. Ink is no exception to this, as Maberry has once again produced a dark and sinister figure in Owen Minor, the self-proclaimed Lord of the Flies. Owen is an inherently creepy and deeply disturbing individual who has gained the ability to steal people’s tattoos and the associated memories with them, as well as several other abilities. Thanks to a series of intriguing interludes, Maberry dives into the history of Owen, showing his origins as a character, what his motivations are and how he realised what his powers were. This examination of Owen’s psyche and history is both fascinating and unsettling and getting this deeper look into the character’s soul makes the reader dislike him even more, especially as you begin to realise just how twisted he truly is. The author also includes a number of chapters from the point of view of several different side characters who have been infected by Owen in some way or another. These scenes not only help to explore the true extent of his abilities but they also show the lengths he is willing to go to get his favourite meal. The way in which he attacks his victims and then revels in their mental agony ensures that the reader builds a deep hatred for him and you really cannot wait to see him get some form of comeuppance. All in all, this was another great antagonist from Maberry, and I look forward to seeing what sort of maniac creature he comes up with next time.
As I mentioned above, Maberry returns to his iconic town of Pine Deep for this latest novel, with most of the story set within it. This proves to be a fascinating and dark location for this great book, and I think that Maberry had fun revisiting this haunted town. The author really loads a sense of menace and despair into nearly every scene set within the town, and this is enhanced by every character recognising just how weird and dangerous the place can be. There is a lot of history associated with Pine Deep, as during the original Pine Deep trilogy the town was nearly destroyed by dark forces, with the survivors deeply traumatised as a result. These events, now know by everyone as The Troubles, are a major part of the town’s identity, and Maberry does a great job teasing out what happened during The Troubles to new readers, with only hints and vague comments describing for the first part of the book. It proved to be quite fascinating to see how the town has recovered in the roughly 15 years since the events of the Pine Deep trilogy, and Maberry fans will have an amazing time seeing this continuation of the setting. I really enjoyed seeing the characters explore Pine Deep once again and I hope that Maberry has plans to revisit again in some of his future novels.
One of the more compelling elements of this book is the author’s examination of the importance of tattoos and the memories that people associate with them. I have to admit that I am not particularly into tattoos; while I can appreciate the cool art that other people get, it is really not something I would consider doing for myself. However, I deeply enjoyed the way in which Maberry explored the tattoo world in this novel, examining both tattoo artists and the people who desire the art on their body. In particular, he explores the way in which people get tattoos to mark special or significant occasions, or how tattoos can be used to memorialise tragedy or dark moments from someone’s life and the emotional and memory connections that result from the tattoos. This becomes quite a significant part of the novel, because the antagonist steals the tattoos to get to the memories associated with it. As a result, Maberry than examines the impact of losing such a memory and what it could potentially do it to a person. While some characters manage ok with losing these darker memories, a lot of them are deeply troubled by it, as going through these events and overcoming them, are key to their identity. Without these memories, and the tattoos that personify them on their body, these characters become despondent, and in many cases it becomes too much for them to bear. It helps to really emphasise just how evil and malignant the actions of the antagonist is, and I really appreciated the author’s dives into the human psyche and his compelling depiction of what happens when someone loses their memory and identity. The removal of certain memories from the various point-of-view characters also adds a new level of difficulty to the protagonist’s investigation, as they have to try and find a way to hunt down someone who they can’t remember. These inclusions really added a lot to the story, and readers may come away with a deeper understanding of how important tattoos can be to people.
As with all of Maberry’s novels that I have so far enjoyed, I really could not resist grabbing the audiobook version of Ink. The Ink audiobook has a run time of just over 15 hours, which is a typical length for one of Maberry’s novels, and I found it extremely easy to power through this book in less than a week. Part of this was because of the excellent narration of long-time Maberry narrator, Ray Porter, who once again lends his awesome vocal talent to this thrilling book. Porter is probably one of my favourite audiobook narrators at the moment, and I cannot imagine listening to one of Maberry’s novels without his amazing voices. Just like he does in the Joe Ledger novels, Porter really dives into the characters he is portraying, ensuring that the full range of their emotions become abundantly clear to anyone to who listening to the story. He is also does an amazing job enhancing the horror elements of this book with some of his creepier tones, and the listener can get chills at the horrible and slimy voices he uses for the antagonist or for some of the darker scenes in Ink. While it was a little disconcerting at time to hear some of the familiar voices from the Joe Ledger audiobooks in this new novel, Porter was once again fantastic narrating Ink, and I would strongly recommend this format as the ideal way to check this book out.
Jonathan Maberry once again shows why he is one of the preeminent authors of the weird thriller novel, with this outstanding horror book Ink. Ink is an extremely clever and thrilling horror book that grabs the reader’s attention from the beginning and refuses to let go. Thanks to the outstanding narrative, impressive characters and interesting themes, Ink proves to be a captivating and exciting read, especially when combined with the distinctive setting of Pine Deep from Maberry’s previous novels. As a result, Ink comes highly recommended, especially in its audiobook format, and this novel is worth checking out. I had an exceptional time reading this book and I cannot wait for Maberry’s next novel, Relentless, which comes out in several long months.
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