The Black Tattoo, Sam Enthoven’s debut novel, is a book of fits and starts. But more anon.
Jack and Charlie are knocking around London when they are drawn into a dark battle which may involve the Earth. Crispy duck is an odd dish to have. In a mysterious room above a theatre, they are given a test, transforming Charlie and giving him a distinctive black tattoo on his back.
Finding a way to Hell (in an entrance slightly reminiscent of Pratchett), Charlie begins to lose himself and finds himself becoming a Prince of Hell. As social climbers climb, those above must be displaced and the guardians of the peace (including some mad French men) call to aid restore the balance of power.
The Black Tattoo is a wonderful study of divorce and how some children deal with it – ultimately this is about the internal world falling apart and the rage that sometimes arises. The locales of London and Hell are well known but Enthoven doesn’t come with his own take on them. Yet they reflect the inside. The two find their way around the strange cities but Charlie is completely lost.
Enthoven’s major influence is Asian cinema (the real McCoy, I suspect, that rarely makes its way over here unless its in independent labels) and most of the action comes from martial arts. Sometimes this overshadows what is essentially a solid book.
There are great ideas and artefacts in the Black Tattoo but they do get a little lost. It might pay for the author to slow down a little and allow for the words to breathe rather than being frenetically busy. Just a thought. That’s just the parts.
The whole is a book that injects itself under your skin, festering away and growing on you. He’s certainly somebody to look out for in the future.