Gary Kemble's first book SKIN DEEP was shortlisted for the 2016 Ned Kelly Award for a very good reason. It was a hands on, in your face, blood, guts and glory paranormal crime mashup with a quintessentially Australian bloke central character that worked incredibly well. So well that a reader would be excused for wondering where Harry Hendrick could be taken next. Straight into the web of a dominatrix with an overwhelming ability to manipulate her clients wasn't quite what I was expecting.
Yet again, in BAD BLOOD, we have something that just shouldn't work for this reader on so many levels and yet it's compulsive reading. In this outing Gary Kemble has upped the ante in a number of aspects. There's quite a bit of sex, of the erotic / vaguely weird variety. There's considerably more of the paranonormal than was in the earlier book. There's some short sharp bursts of very confrontational violence (of the self-inflicted variety) and there's again an historical viewpoint - in this case child abuse. There's also Union corruption, people behaving badly, suspicious wives and always, at the centre of the web there's the mysterious and slightly unnerving Mistress Hel, and her suburban lair. Which means that there's also humour and more than hefty dose of tongue in cheek in this series as well. Or it might just be me that found the idea of a luxurious, custom built, den of a dominatrix in an otherwise "nice" suburban street not just apt, but funny into the bargain. Not that what Mistress Hel is up to is funny, nor her reasons.
There are quite a few strengths to this series. The paranormal aspects work for this slightly allergic reader, mostly because they are presented in such a matter-of-fact, every day sort of style. There's always that slight sense that Hendrick isn't 100% convinced about what's happening around him either, and he's certainly not presenting it as special or mystical or "other". It's a pain in the neck (literally) and he's not afraid to show that.
Aside from the paranormal Harry Hendrick comes across as a pretty normal sort of bloke. Able to screw up a relationship in a single bound, somewhat erratic when it comes to household chores, struggling to pay the bills and looking for a way to give his life some direction. Martial arts helps, mates help and stick close despite some ups and downs. All in all it's a really average, normal sort of a life, aside from the paranormal, and that's what makes it work so well.
BAD BLOOD is accessible crime / thriller / paranormal / action packed day to day life style storytelling, although a series that would be more compelling if read in order. It's good fun and at the same time it's tackling some serious social failings. Very cleverly done and well worth following even if, like me, you're normally a little leery of speculative fiction.