From the BLURB:
Brett Kavanaugh is a tattoo artist and owner of The Painted Lady, catering to high-profile clients in Las Vegas. But in her free time, she does a little investigating too - because murder really gets under her skin. . . .
When a girl makes an appointment to get devotion ink with the name of her fiancé embedded in a heart, Brett takes the job, but the girl never shows. The next thing Brett knows, the police are looking for her mysterious client and the name she wanted on the tattoo isn't the name of her fiancé.
An alliance with an unlikely partner leads Brett to a dead body, a suave Englishman, and an Elvis karaoke bar. And who is the tattooed stranger stalking her? Brett draws lines between the clues, unwittingly putting herself in danger. But she intends to see justice done, since death, like a tattoo, is permanent. . . .
In recent years there has been a literary insurgence of murder mystery series with unique twists regarding protagonist and setting.
A quick search on ‘Fantastic Fiction’ reveals a plethora of such books. Kate Carlisle’s ‘Bibliophile Mystery’ series has a leading lady who collects and restores old books in between solving crime. Cleo Coyle’s ‘Coffeehouse’ mystery series has murders and other intrigues all occurring in her protagonists’ coffeehouse. Even Charlaine Harris wrote two such series – ‘Aurora Teagarden’ revolved around a librarian who found herself drawn into various murders around her small town. Likewise, ‘Lily Bard’ concerned a local cleaning lady who found herself caught up in her clients’ criminal trials and tribulations. I am a huge fan of both ‘Aurora Teagarden’ and ‘Lily Bard’ – and have been meaning to delve further into this slightly bizarre genre since I loved both those series so much.
No quirky murder mystery series had caught my eye until Karen E. Olson’s ‘Tattoo Shop Mysteries’. I really loved this premise – and I thought there was lots of potential for the leading lady, Brett Kavanaugh, to get caught up in various criminal cases. When you think about it, criminals and tattoos pretty much go hand-in-hand (stereotypical, but true).
In theory, I really liked Brett. She’s sort of a walking contradiction, and Olson plays on that. Plenty of times throughout the book she observes and shatters common misconceptions about people who have ink. Brett is no exception. She may own a tattoo parlor in Vegas – but she has an arts degree from Philadelphia’s Fine Arts University. She sports a reconstruction of Monet’s ‘Water Lillies’ as a sleeve tat on her arm and has an older brother on the Las Vegas Police Department. But Brett’s veneer runs thin. She isn’t a particularly charismatic person; in fact she is quite boring except for her interesting job and appearance. Furthermore, she’s a bit stupid. So many moments reading ‘The Missing Ink’ I just wanted to (figuratively) slap her on the face and tell her to “wake the hell up!”.
She has a detective brother who is working on the missing persons case that she is at the center of – yet she withholds so much vital information from him and is then surprised when she discovers that her silence causes more problems that she could have easily prevented. For many inexplicable reasons she feels the need to take matters into her own hands – and is surprised when she finds herself in increasingly hotter and hotter water.
And the big ‘DUH!’ moments come when she develops a crush on one of the suspects in the missing persons case. The man in question is obviously using her, and is clearly a sleazy womanizer, but she falls for his bedroom eyes and pretty accent. To be honest it’s pathetic and frustrating to read and made me fairly unsympathetic to Brett.
The thing is, Karen E. Olson has a great plot working in ‘The Missing Ink’. It thickens and congeals and becomes so darn titillating you can’t help but keep reading, even when you all but lose faith in the books’ heroine. Olson knows how to draw the reader in, leaving just enough bread crumbs to keep you reading and so many twisty turns that you’ll be speculating on ‘whodunnit’ until the last page.
Part of the reason Olson’s storyline works so well is the Vegas setting. The desert town becomes a character in itself, and a reflection of sinister characters twisted motives. Olson really knows this city, and it shows in her writing. I particularly love this description of the Entertainment Capital of the world;
As I approached, I saw the Strip’s lights were off, the glitz diminished by the glare of the sun. The magic just wasn’t there in the daytime. From a distance, it looked like a kid had dropped a bunch of toys in one spot and hadn’t bothered to straighten them out: a castle, the statue of Liberty, a golden lion, the Eiffel Tower, an Egyptian pyramid, a Space Needle. A playground for adults, where no one can really win, but the illusion puts blinders on.
I did enjoy this book. The murder mystery is wonderfully constructed, a genuine page-turner. And the Vegas setting is pure genius. The cover art by Craig Phillips is divine (as it should be, when visuals and appearance mean so much in the book). But a gaping hole does lie in character – mainly that Brett Kavanagh is so darn annoying and stupid that you almost become antipathetic to her plight. It’s a shame, but one that you’d think could be easily overcome in subsequent books with more characterization. For that reason I do intend to read the second book ‘Pretty in Ink’, released March 2nd this year.