The Trick
Douglas Ford
Madness Heart Press (May 14, 2023)
Review by Elaine Pascale

The Trick is an exciting read, and I devoured it with a surprising quickness. Ford writes of the surreal, yet a reader is eased into every plot point so that the logic of the story is unquestionable. Delightful, and unquestionable.

The main character is the woebegone Adam. Adam’s wardrobe consists only of work shirts because he has no need to go elsewhere. Adam lacks curiosity and basically trudges through life without identifying any personal wants or needs. Even his marriage to Ukrainian immigrant Nataliya is drudgery. There is a substantial lack of love between the two coupled with a complete lack of interest in developing a life together. One of the first things that we learn about Adam is that he is not a fan of tattoos. He liked tattoos even less after Nataliya needled him [pun intended] into taking her to a show that she had found tickets to. It was originally a comedy show (guess what, Adam is not a fan of comedy, either) but a magician had to fill in. Through sleight of hand, Adam is given a tattoo of Baphomet.

The tattoo is permanent, and it opens Adam’s world in both positive and negative ways. He meets new people, especially the intriguing tattoo artist Merripen; he is forced to travel beyond his hometown and to learn about culture, art, and the occult. It is that last aspect that leads to the negative developments. Adam learns of a mad tattooist who skinned himself to be free of his ink. He also learns of the murders of people who had tattoos mirroring his magical one.

Adam is the requisite straight man of the story; the other characters are kooky and fun. Nataliya’s father is a crazy minister on a quest to stop the arrival of the antichrist. Her mother dances in the nude and lives in a tent. Nataliya herself is highly emotional and unpredictable. The magician who made the tattoo appear on Adam’s hand cannot stop himself from sexually harassing everyone in his vicinity. And Merripen proves to be an unlikely ally in Adam’s chaotic world.

This was not my first experience reading a story written by Douglas Ford, so I was prepared for how fantastic it would be. He is a consummate storyteller who knows how to pack a plot with surprises without losing the thread. I highly recommend The Trick: take it along on your next plane ride or as a vacation read. You will be glad you did.