~by Karen E. Olson
I came across The Missing Ink by Karen E. Olson completely by accident while digging through a discard bin at work. Olson is the author of the Annie Seymour mysteries and The Missing Ink is the first book in her newer Tattoo Shop mystery series featuring Brett Kavanaugh. And that is what captured my attention and made me pick up the book--the fact that a female tattoo artist and shop owner was the protagonist. Well, that and the striking and very cute and fun cover. Additionally, I've been trying to make a point to read more mystery novels but have been having a hard time recently finding any that really interest me. So, I was happy to have stumbled upon The Missing Ink even though I had never heard of the author or the series before. And after reading the first line, "I've made grown men cry," I was pretty certain I was going to like the book.
Brett Kavanaugh is the owner of The Painted Lady, a stylish tattoo shop situated among the Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes in Las Vegas. She's used to cops, her brother Tim is one of the city's detectives, but that doesn't make her any happier when one shows up outside her shop asking questions. One of Brett's potential clients has gone missing; she never arrived for her appointment and it looks like Brett may have been the last person to see her alive. Of course the media gets a hold of this and The Painted Lady is suddenly getting unwanted publicity and Brett herself is receiving more attention and scrutiny from those interested in the investigation. But she can't help digging for more information on her own, especially as the situation becomes more complicated and a fellow tattoo artist is not only implicated in the disappearance, but for murder as well.
The Missing Ink introduces a great set of characters and I liked them all from Brett's detective brother, to her colorful employees, to her unscrupulous rival tattooist. But probably my favorite character of all, even above Brett, was Sylvia--a feisty female tattoo artist from an older generation when it was more difficult for a woman to get any respect in the industry. I really do hope we get to see more of her in the following books because she is a wonderful character and I hope I can be as cool and self-assured as she is when I grow up. Being inked myself, I enjoyed all of the tattoo talk in The Missing Ink; Olson certainly did her research. She also includes many pop culture references (most of which I actually got) which was fun but made it more frustrating when she had to be deliberately vague in the case of a celebrity's unknown-to-the-reader identity.
The Missing Ink was a lot of fun. The mystery itself wasn't particularly exceptional or clever--I wasn't really taken by surprise by any of the plot developments or twists--but it fortunately doesn't rely too heavily on coincidences. I did find some of the story elements to be a little unbelievable or overly melodramatic, especially a few of the romantic conflicts, but this works for what is more or less a light read. I did really enjoy the incorporation of tattoos, tattoo culture, and the tattoo industry into the story and even into the mystery itself--it adds a nice flavor and interesting commentary and is one of the things that sets this series apart from the rest. I also liked Brett's easy, sassy sense of humor which made The Missing Ink a delight to read and the chapters were short and sweet. So, even though the book may not have been the most original (well, except for the tattoos) I still plan on reading, and expect to enjoy, the next book in the Tattoo Shop series, Pretty in Ink.