Review: Smalltown Boy by TS Hunter from Red Dog Press

A lovely end to Soho Noir. Joe and Russell at Christmas, dead bodies, mystery and gossip. What more could you need?

Available to buy directly from Red Dog Press in paperback (alongside lovely omnibus editions of Soho Noir in paperback and limited edition hardback, as well as the full catalogue from Red Dog).

E-Book is available here.

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Soho Noir has come to define 2019 as a reading year, the first book, Tainted Love, came out in April and I was blown away by a perfectly structured novella populated by wonderful characters and also really moved by what it meant to have a narrative so firmly set in the LGBTQ+ experience. As frequent readers will know, this is a subject close to my heart, however its not one I’m going to talk about too much here. There is a limited edition hardback of the full series due soon (in fact, I believe my copy hit the postal system on Christmas Eve, so given the bank holidays I’m hopeful of receiving it soon), and I’m hoping to write a longer piece on the series as a whole at some stage early in the new year to tie in.

So, on to Smalltown Boy, the sixth Soho Noir story. We find our heroes invited to a Christmas Eve party at a TV celebrity’s Bloomsbury mansion. This celebrity may or may not have a ring of a certain entertainer very popular in the UK in the 80s and 90s. Who may or may not have presented some classic British game shows. That inspiration is after all for the reader to interpret. Said celebrity has a personal life that could charitably be described as complicated. So, as anyone who has gotten to know Russell over the course of this year can imagine he’s not terribly thrilled about going! Joe however has a new boyfriend and is determined to enjoy his Christmas in Soho, and so to the party they go. As this is a crime series, its not terribly long before a body turns up, followed closely by renowned homophobe Detective Skinner and Joe and Russell find themselves drawn into a mystery they need to solve in order to ensure the innocent aren’t fit up by a lazy and corrupt copper.

Getting all six Soho Noir novels written, edited and published in such a short space of time has been a mammoth task on the part of TS Hunter and the fine folks at Red Dog Press. To achieve such a thing has to be a labor of love, there is no other way to find the motivation on these timescales, it has to be passion. And that passion, that love for the world that our author has created shines through. There is a fan base for these stories now, there is much love for the characters and I think TS Hunter feels that responsibility keenly, they are no longer just his characters. They are out in the world now, they belong to all of us readers and fans.

TS Hunter has most definitely done justice to the series he created in this final, for now at least, installment. Written with his usual flair and laid back conversational style, all the key elements are there, and some storylines start to come together as the novella draws to a close. A climatic sequence in the local police station is particularly tense, but ultimately rather satisfying for anyone who has read all six over the course of the year.

Writing in this way has given TS Hunter a level of freedom to tell a range of stories and get to know lots of different characters without the world ever feeling overcrowded. It’s also allowed us as readers to develop an affection for these individuals which lasts well beyond the final page of any single book, in a way that doesn’t always occur with a standalone novel. I think the characters we all come to know and love the best are those that feature in longer series, whether that be over novella or novel length. I wrote in some detail about that on the blog, with some amazing guest contributions, you can see that piece here if you’re interested.

Smalltown Boy is a satisfying close to a series that have come to define my reading and blogging year. I believe there is a full novel to wrap up the 80s and another series for the 90s yet to come. We haven’t seen the last of Joe and Russell and I can’t wait to see where the series takes us next.

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