Reviewed by Wendy Hawkin
Screenwriter Blake Snyder claims there are only ten types of stories, and I believe him. Given the vast amount of books and films being launched today, that makes it nigh impossible to create an original concept. But JP McLean’s Dark Dreams Series strikes me as something unique. The series begins with the multi-award-winning Blood Mark—a sexy noir crime novel starring a bold, intelligent superhero who seeks justice for her past transgressions despite her strange affliction.
In Blood Mark, we meet three series characters who take turns telling the story: twenty-four-year-old Jane who works at a plant nursery; her best friend Sadie who’s seduced by the kind of cash prostitution offers; and Jane’s love interest, the sexy biker and bar manager, Ethan Bryce. Their stories continue in Ghost Mark as does their love triangle—neither Sadie nor Ethan trust each other—which makes for tense, unending drama.
Abandoned at birth, Jane suffers from vivid blood-red marks that snake around her body, horrific nightmares, and trauma from growing up in the foster care system. She discovers early on that not only are her dreams about real people who are being stalked by a killer, but she’s appearing in these scenes as a shadowy figure.
Her blood marks, given to her in the womb during an ancient Inca ritual, are a form of protection. According to the Inca scholar, Jane is a Witness. As a Witness, she mustn’t act in any way that can change history. But how does one slip in and out of time without changing history? It’s virtually impossible, and one instinctive act of kindness haunts her through both books.
When Jane’s blood marks begin to disappear, she’s left feeling vulnerable. By the time we get to Ghost Mark, not only have Jane’s blood marks completely vanished, she’s now entering her dreams in a visibly translucent form—looking like a ghost, if you will. And to complicate things, people can now see her, and she appears in the dream scene wearing whatever she was wearing, or not wearing, when she fell asleep. After turning up naked in one dream, she starts sleeping fully dressed in jeans, motorcycle jacket, and boots with a hidden knife, in case her narcolepsy catches her unaware. Not only that, Jane discovers a vivid white “escape valve” on the back of her hand that “doesn’t just rewind a dream. When I trace the mark clockwise, it jumps me out of the dream entirely.”
Unique concept? Absolutely.
McLean’s writing is as ingenious as her protagonist, ranging from grunge to snappy repartee to sophistication to laugh-out-loud snarks. My favourite line? “Careful, Ethan. You might just trip over your bravado and land on your ass.” Delivered by Sadie, of course. The plot twists as vividly as Jane’s blood marks. Intelligent stake-raising, mysterious dreams, and a tortuous ordeal in a freezing Alberta museum will have you flipping pages far into the night.
Life is bleak and gritty in this novel, and the Vancouver landscape honestly portrayed. Both Jane and Sadie are scarred by the foster care system. Jane discovers in a dream that Ethan’s scars happened another way. The antagonists are as manipulative, cruel, and evil as you could hope for in a crime novel, and Jane as tough a hero as it takes to put them in their place.
McLean’s first supernatural series, The Gift Legacy, included seven books. I’m hoping “dark dreams” continue to haunt the author, so she continues to write sequels.
Trust me. Ghost Mark is gripping. You won’t put it down till it’s done.
Ghost Mark is published by WindStorm Press, 2022
W. L. Hawkin writes the Hollystone Mysteries and romantic suspense with Blue Haven Press.