Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Tattoosday Book Review: The Missing Ink

As tattooing has skyrocketed in popularity, the number of ink-related books hitting the shelves has multiplied like rabbits. I picked up a copy of Kat Von D.'s book at Borders the other day (read my review here) and was astonished to see it was in its eighth printing.

A fresh tattoo-related title emerged earlier this year, and it wasn't in the Health/Beauty/Appearance category, as you would expect. Rather, it's jumping out in the Mystery category.

Karen E. Olson released The Missing Ink, introducing a new protagonist to the literary world. Brett Kavanaugh is a Las Vegas-based tattoo artist who gets caught up in a murder mystery. Behold: a new series is born.

Ms. Olson is currently at work on book three in the series. The second title, Pretty in Ink, is due out in March.

And I can hardly wait.

All judging of books by their covers jokes aside, don't let the art gracing The Missing Ink fool you: this is not "chick lit". Brett Kavanaugh is not looking for love, Manolo Blahniks, or the man of her dreams. She's a career-driven tattooist committed to her art and running her business respectably, as much as can be expected in a Vegas casino.

I'm not saying it doesn't have a feminine touch, Brett is still a beautiful woman, with a soft spot for nice clothing and a blazing crush on one of the mysterious characters in the narrative, but she also wolfs down In-N-Out burgers and doesn't back down from her role in a profession that has been traditionally male-dominated. There are notable exceptions to this, of course, but it has only been in the last ten years that we have seen the elevation of the female tattoo artist joining the ranks of their male peers as acknowledged masters of the art form.

What The Missing Ink has is a plot that keeps us interested, with characters that are believable and entertaining. Her hefty sidekick, Joel, and diminutive employee, Bitsy, are just two of my favorite characters who are a pleasure to behold on the page.

The story wends its way through a maze of a murder that links Brett by virtue of a tattoo she designed but never inked. We get a taste of Vegas that takes us behind the scenes at a casino and even brings us to a wonderfully evocative setting of an Elvis karaoke bar.

I can see tattoo purists rolling their eyes at this book because it is a whimsical murder mystery that doesn't necessarily put the art at the forefront of the action. But it's not intended to. Ink is discussed and we often see Bret at work, but the plot often pulls her away from the job.

But this, after all, is fiction: a creation of the author that has been carefully researched and presented respectfully in regard to the tattoo industry. For more realism, I'd recommend Jeff Johnson's Tattoo Machine: Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink, which also came out this summer (a review is forthcoming).

It's fun to dive into a murder mystery every so often and even more fun to do so when you're interested in ink and the main character is an artist. It's refreshing to read a work of fiction that is centered around the modern tattoo industry and just doesn't use tattoos as clues or signifiers on a character's body.

Ms. Olson has created a character that is believable and entertaining. Although I am unlikely to fly off to Vegas and seek out a tattoo at the hotel, I certainly look forward to the Spring when Bret Kavanaugh returns to further grace us with her presence!

Here's another review, and another, if you'd like some more opinions.

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