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Dark Art: Personal Effects    by J. C. Hutchins & Jordan Weisman order for
Dark Art
by J. C. Hutchins
Order:  USA  Can
Griffin, 2009 (2009)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Dark Art, by J.C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman is the first in the Personal Effects interactive supernatural thriller series. It's interactive in that readers are provided with a book pocket filled with documentation - including ID cards, birth and death certificates, family photos, CIA and FBI documents, and so on - and encouraged to work on solving the mystery themselves. While not a graphic novel, the book is filled with atmospheric black and white drawings that help maintain the tale's momentum and noir feel.

Dark Art is narrated by the 'unusually invested' art therapist Zach Taylor, who has secrets and vulnerabilities in his past. Zach's controlling father Will is a District Attorney. Zach, who works at Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital, is very close to his younger 'slang-slinging, living spring of a brother Lucas' and is in a strong relationship with his 'tattooed goddess, Rachael'.

As the story opens, he's asked to take on a tough and unusual case, that of suspected serial killer Martin Grace, 'a traveling salesman of death' whose blindness is believed to be psychosomatic. Though the police are convinced of Grace's guilt, he has airtight alibis for many of the twelve murders of which he is charged - and which he predicted in some detail. Zach is tasked with determining whether or not his patient is competent to stand trial. His own father is prosecuting the case - and has a personal stake in its outcome.

There is a strong element of horror to this compelling, masterfully written story. Martin Grace, a subtle and skilled manipulator of those who come into his orbit, seems convinced that he's an 'unwitting psychic sniper' for some supernatural Dark Man. This resonates with a terror from Zach's past, when he watched his mother die. Zach gradually learns more about his own family history, and about the man who was jailed for his mother's murder. With help from Lucas and Rachael, he also digs out dark secrets from Grace's past as the story unfolds.

Is there really a Dark Man or is Grace able to mesmerize people close to him? Zach comes to a different conclusion than that of the legal system, but it leads to the same place, in a remarkably fitting conclusion to this horrific story. The writing is edgy and effective, the characters strong and lively, and readers are left to form their own conclusions - and to dig deeper by calling phone numbers and visiting online sites.

Though I find the notion of voyeuristic storytelling clever and innovative, I don't believe every reader will be sufficiently invested to follow the links offered. Fortunately the merits of the book make it a powerful read on its own. And certainly, if you enjoy horror, Dark Art is a must read.

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