The Silver Tattoo
by Laura Treacy Bentley
Published April '13
Having writer/editor/publisher friends on Facebook often comes in handy. Sometimes an author will make their book available for free on Amazon for a 24 hour period. I've gained a few books that way. But, The Silver Tattoo is by far the best free pick-up I've made.
This book is excellent. Voice is something authors are told to develop constantly, but it almost seems like a myth. Bentley's voice, however, is strong. I think I could pick her writing out of a lineup of samples. Part of this is likely due to her poetry background, though admittedly I've yet to read her poetry.
The book is more sentimental than I'm used to, but LTB is so good at building intrigue that you never lose focus. You just have to have those answers. A lot of my reading consists of horror-fantasy and sci-fi. And while I'm a huge fan of Joe Hill and Mark Lawrence, it's nice to expand one's horizons every so often. So there's no beheadings or monsters, The Silver Tattoo still left me completely satisfied.
Something that's obvious even without a foreword or acknowledgements is that the author has intimate knowledge of Ireland. There's a lot of travel in the book and the locations are described in such detail that you feel like you're really there. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the characters are real. There's a bartender and story-teller on a tiny island that must be inspired by real people. I learned so much about Ireland from reading this novel. Not just the locations, but myths, language and culture all play a large role in the book. And since it's written with an American in the lead role the cultural differences are often noted and explained, making it far easier on a non-Irish reader.
One phrase that does NOT describe the book is "Luck of the Irish". Leah, the main character, is probably the least lucky woman alive. Bad omens and death seem to follow her like a stalker. Oh, and she has a stalker, too. I'm really shocked that the word 'portent' didn't show up in the book once. Leah's troubles start off as mild. Someone's been in her dorm room and left some eery presents. She seems to overreact, asking for a roomate and questioning everyone's motives. But things escalate quickly. Soon people start dying. Not like a horror story, these deaths are few, but pack an emotional punch.
My biggest gripe is a lack of proofreading. Bentley's writing is top notch and deserves to be presented cleanly. "peaked" should always be "piqued" and Oscar Wilde's name shouldn't be missing an 'e'. If it were a lesser book, I probably wouldn't have noticed the errors. But such a strong voice deserves strong editing. Hopefully she'll sell enough to warrant a second edition with all those minor errors fixed.
This isn't a gripe, but more of an observation. The book spends 90% of the time in 3rd person limited view, but it seems to switch to an omniscient view at random points during a chapter. I'm sure that technical-minded individuals will find that distracting. I did not.
One more thing I didn't like. Leah's final encounter with death left me a little uneasy. I felt the character had endured enough hardships that this particular one could have ended happily. I don't think the incident added anything to the story. I'm being purposefully vague because I don't want to spoil anything. Usually I don't concern myself with spoilers. A good book can't be spoiled. But The Silver Tattoo is a mystery and a damn fine one, so I'm going soft on the details for once.
I look forward to any future work of Bentley. I wonder if a sequel is possible. The antagonist wasn't necessarily dead at the end. By-the-way, the ending is nothing less than brilliant in both a metaphorical and literal way.