The Tattoo Thief by Alison Belsham | Book Review and Author QandA (@AlisonBelsham @TrapezeBooks)

Published by Trapeze Books

Available in ebook and paperback (20 September 2018)

383 pages

Source: Review copy provided by publisher

My thanks to Trapeze and Tracy Fenton for the review copy and the tour invitation and to Alison for taking the time to answer my questions.  I also have my review at the end of the post.


|   About the Book   |


A policeman on his first murder case
A tattoo artist with a deadly secret
And a twisted serial killer sharpening his blades to kill again…

When Brighton tattoo artist Marni Mullins discovers a flayed body, newly-promoted DI Francis Sullivan needs her help. There’s a serial killer at large, slicing tattoos from his victims’ bodies while they’re still alive. Marni knows the tattooing world like the back of her hand, but has her own reasons to distrust the police. So when she identifies the killer’s next target, will she tell Sullivan or go after the Tattoo Thief alone?


Q&A with Alison Belsham


It’s a pleasure to welcome you to the blog Alison, would you please tell us a little about your background?

Hi – it’s great to be here, so thank you for having me and for taking the time to read The Tattoo Thief. This is my debut novel, but to be honest, I’ve been a writer all my life. My day job is freelance copywriting and in this I’m very fortunate as it allows me the time to write fiction when I’m not busy with clients’ work. Over the years, I’ve tried my hand at screenwriting and I’ve written several other novels – but this is the first one I’ve managed to have published – so it’s a very exciting time for me.

Without giving away too much information, can you please tell us a little about your latest novel, The Tattoo Thief? What inspired you to create a story around tattoos?

In November, 2015, I had the first of five sessions on a sleeve tattoo. That night, I couldn’t get to sleep – I was too excited about having finally done something I’d wanted to do for years. I thought to myself, “I’ve got my tattoo at last. No one can take it away.” Then my writer’s brain chipped in with this thought: “What if someone did take it away?” That’s how the idea for The Tattoo Thief was born. It’s a police procedural serial killer thriller, set in Brighton – and as the title suggests, someone is attacking people and cutting their tattoos from them. It’s quite gruesome but also a lot of fun.

I’m obviously not asking you to reply if this too personal! but do you have any tattoos and are you able to share a picture?

Yes, I do have a tattoo, but at this point just the one. I chose to have an octopus tattoo not because octopuses have special meaning for me, but precisely because they don’t. I wanted something aesthetically pleasing rather than deep and meaningful – because the things that are meaningful to us change throughout our lives. I have an octopus sleeve on my right arm and it’s something I’ve never regretted doing for a minute.

The story is set in Brighton. Is that somewhere of which you have personal knowledge or did you have to make many research trips?

Having lived in London and the south east for most of my life (though I now live in Edinburgh), Brighton was a place that I’ve visited many times and know well. However, since deciding to set my books there, I’ve had several research trips to check out precise locations and soak up the atmosphere – and I really love going back there whenever I can.

The world of tattoo artists seems to be a very closed one with many artists knowing each other and being able to recognize each other’s work. Is this an area of interest to you or a career that you have ever considered?

I’ve been fascinated by tattoos all my life – since my grandfather, a submariner, used to show me the stunning Chinese dragon tattoos he’d had tattooed on his arms in China during the 1930s. Thankfully, these days tattooing is a huge fashion and is becoming much more accessible. Also, now nearly half of tattooists are women, which I think is a brilliant change in the industry. But much as I’m fascinated by tattooing, I could never become a tattooist because I can’t draw. It would be too cruel to inflict people with my terrible artwork!

I have to mention the cat. I daren’t Google this because some things can’t be unseen but are animals with tattoos really a thing?

Unfortunately, yes, there are some people who have tattooed their pet animals, claiming that it’s okay as the animals are sedated at the time. This is totally wrong as animals obviously can’t give consent and no animal looks better with a tattoo.

How did you plan/research your books? Do you plot in detail or just see where the story takes you?

I’m probably the queen of advanced plotting! I plan out every chapter on a huge Excel document before I write a word of the book – a process that takes a couple of months to do. It means that when I start writing I know exactly where I’m going with any given scene. Of course, that doesn’t mean things don’t change along the way – and then I have work out how that impinges on the planned scenes moving forward. Well, no one said writing a book would be easy…

What is the best writing advice that you have received? And what advice would you give to anyone trying to get their novel published? Is there anything that you wished you had done differently?

That’s a tough question to answer. I think writers are bombarded with thousands of bits of advice, day after day. Some I take on board and have made a real difference to my writing, while others I disregard – but I don’t think there can be one single golden piece of advice. In fact, when it comes to writing advice, it’s not a case of ‘one size fits all’, as people are writing different things, in different styles, for different reasons and readerships.

I think the advice I would give to anyone who wants to get published is to persevere. If you’ve never written before, don’t expect your first novel to get published – you need to learn your craft and practice repeatedly. After all, someone doesn’t just pick up a violin and get to play in the Albert Hall. Apparently, most debut novels are actually the fourth or fifth book a writer has written, so if you really want to get published and succeed, you need to be in it for the long haul.

I don’t think there’s anything I wish I’d done differently. I’ve worked hard and I’ve also been very lucky, and this has happened at exactly the right time for me, so I feel very blessed.

Is there any part of the writing process which you enjoy (or find the most difficult) – i.e. researching, writing, editing?

I enjoy all of those three – researching, writing and editing – and each has their easy days and their tough days. And if it’s been a really hard day of writing or editing, the satisfaction you feel when you get where you want to be is all the sweeter.

Are there any authors whose books have made an impact on you? What type of book do you enjoy reading for pleasure, and what are you reading now?

Interestingly, a lot of the books that have made an impact on me haven’t been crime fiction at all. I’m a big fan of Charles Dickens and John Irving – long sprawling novels that not only tell great stories but also make points about the world we live in and what it means to be human. However, I do read a lot of crime fiction – my favourites include Stieg Larsson, Michael Connelly, Jo Nesbo, Scott Turrow and too many more to mention.

I’m currently between books but I just finished reading an advance copy of The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides – it’s coming out next year and it’s going to be huge, so look out for it.

When you’re not working or writing, what do you do to relax?

I wish there was a time when I wasn’t working or writing! But if there was, I’m not sure I’d know what to do with myself!

Finally, are there are plans for a series featuring Francis Sullivan and Rory Mackay?

Yes, absolutely! The Tattoo Thief is a trilogy that features not only Francis and Rory but also my tattoo artist character, Marni Mullins. I’m working hard on the second one right now – Poison Ink.


and folks…………….here is Alison’s tattoo



|   My Thoughts   |


Well. If you like your crime dark and graphic then this is the book for you.

As to what the book is about, “It does what it says on the tin”. There is a killer selecting people with tattoos and removing them – whilst the person is still alive. Gory enough for you? We’re not talking tiny butterflies here by the way – all those chosen have some amazing body art which someone is obviously desperate to own.

DI Francis Sullivan has been newly promoted at just 29 years of age. His promotion has not gone down well with his colleague DS Rory Mackay who was also hoping to get the post. Tensions between the two simmer with Sullivan’s inexperience being an irritant to Mackay. It doesn’t help that their DCI is a rude ignorant brute of a man who has no time for reasoning or excuses and just wants results. Now.

Set in Brighton, the story is told from 4 perspectives – Francis, Rory, a tattooist called Marni Mullins and an unknown voice, who I took to be the killer.

Marni is a complex character, clearly damaged by past events of which the reader is gradually made aware. Divorced from fellow tattoo artist Thiery Mullins, she is a respected tattoo artist in her own right. She still holds a torch for her ex-husband and even though she resents his interference in her life, she can’t quite let go.  It is Marni who discovers the first victim and when Francis approaches her for assistance with his enquiries into the tattooist community, she is conflicted. She wants to help catch the killer but doesn’t want to help the police. There were the inevitable eye rolls from me whenever she went off-piste and ignored advice. How many times do bad things happen when they do that? Some people never learn!

The Tattoo Thief is rather more graphic than the crime thrillers I would normally choose but I really enjoyed this.  I can be a bit of a wuss where mutilation of bodies are concerned and there were times when I winced and had to look away at a particularly gruesome description but the story raced along at a pace and kept my interest all the way through. The voice of the killer, is particularly chilling, as are the references to ‘The Collector’.

I particularly liked the interaction between Marni and Francis – partly because they were so very different in personality. Francis was very religious, a regular church goer with family issues of his own. His inexperience in dealing with suspects and witnesses meant for some clumsy interviewing which did get people’s backs up – including Marni’s. However for all her antipathy towards the police there was a connection between the two which I suspect might be explored further.

I did feel quite sorry for Francis. His lack of experience made him a marked man in some quarters and some people had no hesitation in throwing him under a bus if it suited them. However he had a stubborn nature and wouldn’t go away quietly. He wants to prove himself by solving the case any way he can. In that respect he and Marni were well matched.

The Tattoo Thief was an intriguing and tension filled read from beginning to end. I’m interested to see how the characters of Sullivan and Mullins develop and will definitely be reading more of this series.


|   Author Bio   |

Alison Belsham initially started writing with the ambition of becoming a screenwriter-and in 2000 was commended for her visual storytelling in the Orange Prize for Screenwriting. In 2001 she was shortlisted in a BBC Drama Writer competition. Life and children intervened but, switching to fiction, in 2009 her novel Domino was selected for the prestigious Adventures in Fiction mentoring scheme. In 2016 she pitched her first crime novel, The Tattoo Thief, at the Pitch Perfect event at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival and was judged the winner.


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