Review: A Good and Useful Hurt, by Aric Davis
Mike is a tattoo artist running his own shop, and Deb is the piercing artist he hires to round out the motley crew at his studio of four. The last thing either expects is romance, but that’s exactly what happens when they follow their off-kilter careers and love lives into complete disaster.
When Mike follows a growing trend and tattoos the ashes of deceased loved ones into several customers’ tattoos, he has no idea that it will one day provide the solution—and solace—he will sorely need. And when the life of a serial killer tragically collides with the lives of those in the tattoo shop, Mike and Deb will stop at nothing in their quest for revenge, even if it means stepping outside the known boundaries of life and death.
Ink that is full of crematory ashes, a sociopathic killer, and pain in its most raw form combine for one of the most imaginative, haunting thrillers in recent memory. Full of wit and heart, A Good and Useful Hurt delivers the goods with the pain of a needle in skin.
As someone who hasn’t so much as pierced my ears, this isn’t the sort of book I would normally read. But I’m intrigued by the idea of tattooing the ashes of dead loved ones into your skin, and curiosity got the better of me when this book was featured as a Kindle Daily Deal.
Not knowing what to expect beyond some dead people being inked into alive ones, I went into this blind and almost set it down before the serial killer bits came into play. Davis intentionally sets the initial pace slow, escorting you through the life of a tattoo artist and his blossoming romance with Deb. While educational, the writing felt clunky and the characters weren’t grabbing me.
Character voice, or the lack thereof, is the greatest detriment to this novel. The only characters that had a recognizable spark were Deb and the serial killer. Everyone else spoke and acted as Guy Cardboard #1 and Girl Cardboard #2 – including Mike, the main character. This is a problem with long conversations that lack any tag to inform you who’s talking, or even what they’re doing. Such passages became a confusing back and forth that forced me to continually check who started speaking and count paragraphs to figure out who was saying what.
Brisk chapter length work in Davis’ favor during this period of the novel, propelling the reader forward until the novel takes a startling turn to the supernatural. This turning point took me completely by surprise, and flipped a ho-hum novel into one of the most unique things I’ve ever read. I found the way tattoos were incorporated into all of this very romantic, and appreciated the theme of remembering the victims of a tragedy rather than the monster.
This is the first self-published novel I’ve ever read, and I think I could do worse. The lack of a solid editing team is felt in the writing, but it’s such an original idea that I can only mourn that it didn’t receive a more premium treatment.
A tattoo is an energy exchange that can be addictive for both client and practitioner, and those two tattoos with ashes carried wild energy—lightning crackling and popping on clear-skied days—and made Mike’s hands wobble in a way they hadn’t wobbled in twenty years. His breath was high and greedy in his chest, and just the emotion, the connection of it, was unreal.
She’d once asked an older customer if her cartilage piercing had hurt, and the woman had said, “Not near as much as my husband hitting me.” Such revelations were commonplace at that crossroads of injury; customers bared their souls regularly about the most personal of issues.
As much as the work could hurt, sometimes it could be a good or a useful hurt.
“[…]But what if you’re wrong and you can still draw? You could have done anything you wanted with it, and instead you never even knew. I’ve kept a lot of secrets from a lot of people that I never should have, but the ones I kept from myself stung a lot worse than any of those.”
Rating: 3/5 [rating=3]
For a majority of the book, I felt like I was beta reading for a friend. I’m not typically so forgiving of writing like this, or such underdeveloped characters. However, the story was so original and opened my eyes to a world I otherwise wouldn’t have taken a second look at. This is one that will stick with me for a long time, and I look forward to following Aric Davis as he polishes his writing style. The man clearly has a creative mind.
It’s a short and fast read, so I would not recommend it at list price. Nab it if you find it on sale or, better yet, borrow it for free from Amazon with a Prime account.