A second outing for T.S Hunter’s Soho Noir series, the return of Joe and Russell. Expanding on the universe and continuing to highlight LGBT issues, Hunter’s excellent writing underpins a fast paced and gripping installment.
Available to buy direct at: Red Dog Press
E-Books available for Kindle
Picking up only a few months after the end of Tainted Love (the first book in the series, find my review for that here), Who’s That Girl builds on the world of 1980’s Soho through the eyes of Joe and Russell. A great friendship borne of adversity and bringing different perspectives to the experiences of the era. Written with an easy readability, Who’s That Girl feels like re-visiting old friends. It’s the literary equivalent of sinking into a favorite chair (much like the one I sit in with my laptop on my knee to write most of my reviews), quite an achievement for only the second book in the series that already these are people I look forward to spending time with.
Our story this time round finds our protagonists thrust into an investigation following the death of a flamboyant MC at a charity drag night organized by Joe, an innocent is arrested as an easy target and Joe and Russell fight to clear his name. I’m not going to get too much more into the detail of the plot, as with many great crime stories there is a risk of spoilers if we push on too far. Needless to say, there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you engrossed and we see how the friendship between Russell and Joe is blossoming. There is also a hint at a possible love interest for Russell in future books, and I do hope that T.S Hunter goes somewhere with that. It’s just a passing hint and I may be reading too much into it, but I can hope. It’s all linked to an undercurrent in the plot that has Russell starting to get more comfortable in his own skin. Feeling he can be himself more, that he can participate in the scene without necessarily conforming to the stereotypes that were prevalent in the 80s. His lack of exposure to the community and to any kind of nuanced views in his younger life comes through in Russell’s story. Highlighting the importance of increased representation in the modern world, without the need for a soapbox.
We also see the return of homophobic police officer, Detective Skinner, demonstrating once again his unwillingness to actively investigate the case, preferring to arrest the first remotely convenient person whilst holding the view of ‘they’re gay, they deserve it’. In Skinner, we have a character that distils a lot of the ignorance driven homophobia of the time (that ultimately led to Section 28 becoming law in 1988, and rather hideously not seeing repeal until 2003 in England and Wales). We also have a fantastic villain of the piece, a foil to Russell and a situation that will continue to play out across the series I believe.
A lot is often made of the term ‘cosy crime’, the argument against being that murder and death can not and should not be ‘cosy’. Whilst I don’t necessarily disagree with that, I do feel that the term is starting to make more sense to me with this second in the series. The cosy element comes from the familiarity with the characters, with spending time with them, catching up with what has been going on in their lives recently. And also, for me with their positive approach to the improving but still difficult time in which they are living.
T.S. Hunter’s writing throughout remains as vivid and compelling as that we were introduced to in Tainted Love, he creates a sense of time and place that is really fundamental to the success of the series. He has built a world for our characters to inhabit, surrounded by interesting people with varied but mostly honorable intentions. A skilled writer working in a format that isn’t often used in this way, novellas in my experience tend to be standalone stories, T.S. Hunter has delivered that ‘difficult second album’, expanding on the world he has created and those in it, an engrossing and quick read. The third installment is due soon, as long as Hunter wishes to write these books I’ll be here to read them.