Tainted Love (Soho Noir Series Book 1) – T. S. Hunter @TSHunter5 @RedDogTweets #SohoNoir #LGBTBooks

 

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Outraged of Hertfordshire is OUTRAGED over that cover: Is… is that supposed to be a… a… w… wi… I can’t even bring myself to say the word willy…. darn it… SEE WHAT YOU’VE MADE ME DO! 🤬

 

The throbbing, pulsating beats of the dance music are really not your thing at all. They reverberate throughout your entire body, the bass making it almost hard to breathe at times, but despite yourself you are having a good time. The club is bustling with men, women, and all those in between, gyrating and throwing shapes upon the sticky, sweaty dance floor. Maybe it’s the drink taking effect, but you are actually having a fun time. You’ve already caught the eyes of several potential admirers, not that you’d have the energy, or inclination, to do anything about it. Still, this is a new feeling and it’s a good one. Above the floor a huge glitterball slowly rotates throwing shards of sparkling incandescence across the walls and the ceiling and onto the hot sweating bodies lost in the music all around you.

As the night draws to a close the club is looking very empty now. Unfortunately you’re stuck here until the end as your friend is the night’s DJ and you promised to help them pack up their gear.

As you recline against the wall you stand transfixed as the glitterball continues to reflect the light in tiny iridescent tesserae all around you. As you continue to stare at it, mesmerised by the many rainbow colours, you start to notice something odd. You look around to see if anyone else has noticed this strange effect, but the few remaining clubbers are off their tits too much to notice anything anymore. You crane your neck back up and stare at the light dancing across the ceiling. Yes, your eyes do not deceive you, those really are words dancing above you, revealing a blurb sparkling above your head:

 

SOME RELATIONSHIPS ARE JUST MURDER 
It’s 1985, and Joe Stone is excited to be joining his old school friend, and lifelong crush, Chris, for a long weekend in London’s Soho—home to a vibrant, developing gay scene, and a million miles from the small town where Joe and Chris grew up. 

When Chris is found brutally murdered, the police write his death off as just another rent boy fallen foul of a bad hook up. But Joe knows his friend was killed deliberately, and joins forces with former police detective, Russell Dixon—Chris’s flatmate—to find out why. 

Spiralling debt, illicit sex, blackmail, spurned lovers and hard-nosed gangsters all play their part, but who among the celebrities, fashionistas, drag queens, ex-lovers and so-called friends is Chris’s killer? 

A noirish whodunnit set in 1980s London, with all the big hair, electro-pop, shoulder pads, police discrimination and lethal killers that the era had to offer.

 

 

*singing*

Once I ran to you (I raaaaaan)
Now I’ll run from youuuUUuuuUUUuuu
This tainted love you’ve given
I give you all a boy could give you
Take my tears and that’s not nearly all
tainted love (dum dum)
Oooooooh…. tainted looooooove

Don’t touch me please
I cannot stand the way you tea….

Oh, um, hello there. What are you doing here? Shizzle, what day is it? Oh, blimey, it’s Friday isn’t it, and you’re here to read my review for the Tainted Love blog tour, aren’t you? Haha, you… you caught me in a rather embarrassing moment there. I can explain… it’s this title you see. I now have, what I believe the young people are calling an ‘earwig’. That’s right, you know, that thing when a song gets stuck in yer noggin and won’t bugger off. Quite what it has to do with the little insect of the same name, I have no idea, but I am nearly 50, so what would I know what the kidzz are saying, eh?

 

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An earwig: I imagine it uses those pincer like appendages at the back there to anchor itself in the ear canal whilst it sings an annoying song to you over and over and over again.

 

Actually, speaking of earwigs, did you know that they are excellent and devoted mothers? No, I bet you didn’t… eh, what’s that? Oh, one of you did? Well, good for you. Now have a lie down and rest that huge brain of yours and take off those smarty pants!

Now, where was I? Oh yes, for the benefit of those who didn’t know, female earwigs are excellent and devoted mothers. They clean their nymphs of spores and other microorganisms that may harm or kill them and therefore ensure that as many as possible make it to maturity. Cool huh? Most insects just lay their eggs and bugger off to leave them and the resulting offspring to fend for themselves, so, earwigs, yeah. And apparently they can sing, that’s possibly how the term ‘earwig’ arose. Dunno.

So, I have one of these stuck in my head now thanks to T. S. Hunter and his book, Tainted Love, hence me singing at the top of this post there. Oh, and it has nothing to do with me wearing these black fishnets, boudoir basque and ponytailed wig whilst I dust my room as I sing, in case you were wondering. Erm, my, um, other clothes are in the wash, yes, and this was all, I , er, all I could find? After all, it wouldn’t do to dust in the all together now, would it? Would it? 🤔

Do excuse me whilst one slips into something a little cosier. Back in a tick…. *bustles off*

*mumble*bloodybuggerbum*mumble*

The Beardy Book Blog is experiencing some technical difficulties right now.

 

Hello? Ah, you’re still here? Phew! I mean, excellent, thank you for hanging around. Apparently, I have just been informed, that it’s not an earwig, but an earworm. Huh, easy mistake to make. Still, you now know something about earwigs that you may not have known before (yes, yes, all except you at the back there. Oh, and please put some pants on. That is most distracting *rolls eyes emoji*)

You see, this blog is both enlightening and informative.

So, I’m guessing you are here to find out what I thought about Tainted Love (TL), the first book in the Soho Noir series of cozy crime novellas, and not to witness me singing or for an entomological lecture on the parental instincts of the Dermaptera? I thought so. Good good, let’s get on with it then…

Actually… before we do, I want to clear something up. This series is described as, and I quote using this quote here:

‘[…] THE FIRST BOOK IN THE SOHO NOIR SERIES OF COZY CRIME NOVELLAS.’

What in the name of God’s nostrils is a ‘cozy crime’? What on earth is cozy [sic] about crime?

Is it where the criminal carries out the crime in their slippers?

Do they bludgeon (ooh, good word, bludgeon. Say it with me… bludgeon. See?) their intended victim, or indeed victims, to death in their fleeciest onesie?

Do they enjoy a hot cup of Horlicks, or other malty hot beverage of their choice, in front of a crackling log fire just after they have brutally strangled a person about their neck?

Maybe they get home, put on a Val Doonican record, and sit back in their favourite knitted jumper in their favourite rocking chair after frenziedly stabbing someone to death with a fluffy handled carving knife?

You see, to me, crimes, especially murder, are by their very nature the least coziest crimes I can think of (Ok, I can think of a few more, but for the purposes of this review I’ll stick with the premeditated taking of a person’s life). A quick Google of the term gave me this, via the ever reliable and what-would-we-ever-do-without-it Wikipedia:

‘Cozy mysteries, also referred to as “cozies”, are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community.’

Oh, well that isn’t at all what I had in mind, that’s pretty disappointing actually. There’s not a slipper or cup of Horlicks to be seen. It doesn’t even mention the coziest of crimefighters, Hetty Wainthropp.

 

hetty
Hetty Wainthropp: In that fluffy beret how could she be anything but cosy, eh?

 

However, lack of fluffy berets aside, that definition does make some kind of sense in the case of Tainted Love.

It is true that in TL there is no explicit violence, the actual death, as brutal and cold bloodied as it is, taking place off page as it were, and it is also true that there is no explicit sex either (boo hiss, T.S.), and neither are treated humorously either. But it is the last part of that definition that rings particularly true as it takes place in the burgeoning gay scene and community of London’s Soho.

Tainted Love is set in the mid 1980’s; 1985 to be exact and you can’t get much more mid than that. It was the year that Eastenders was first broadcast on BBC One and Neighbours debuted on Australian TV; Amadeus won Best Picture at the Oscars; Cocoa Cola released New Coke only to promptly withdraw it again after much public outcrying; Norway’s Bobbysocks (who?) won the 30th Eurovision Song Contest; the hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic is discovered; legendary Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli is founded; Ruth Lawrence, at age 13, yes 13, earns a 1st class degree in Mathematics from Oxford University; Super Mario Bros. is released in Japan setting the standards for platform games for years to come, and the NES console is released in the US; and of course Live Aid is broadcast to an audience of 1.9 billion worldwide.

Throughout the years Soho has always been a hip and trendy part of London, but back then I personally remember it as being a sleazy place filled with sex shops, prostitutes and strip joints. Now, bear in mind I was only 14 at the time, bereft of beard and wide of eye, my experiences of the area were from walking through it from Denmark Street where the original Forbidden Planet comic shop was located, down Old Compton Street and along Brewer Street to get to Piccadilly Circus and the now sadly defunct Tower Records. The only reason really was that it was just a more direct route, but the image of women stood in the doorways calling out to punters, including naive 14/15 year olds it would seem, always stuck in my mind. Of course I am aware that there was much more to Soho than just sex – Queen recorded much of Queen 1 and 2 in St Anne’s Court in the early 70s (which was also the location of the much missed, by me at any rate, Heavy Metal record store, Shades), and many film companies had their offices there – but when you’re a hormonal teenager there are only certain things that *ahem* stick in your mind. Another of the things about Soho that I remember it being known for was its gay scene, and this is the part of that cozy crime definition that most definitely applies to Tainted Love. According to a quick scan of the internets, the gay scene in the mid 80s was still quite small compared to what it became in the 1990s, but it was increasingly a place where gay men and women could feel safe, or at least safer, express themselves and could meet others.

Unfortunately for Chris Sexton, in Tainted Love it isn’t safe enough. He is brutally killed in his flat one night after hastily leaving a club leaving his old school friend Joe Stone to face the full on homophobia of the police and wonder whether his best friend, and unrequited love of his life, was killed for more than being gay. However, he faces an uphill struggle against the attitudes of the investigating police.

As the simply delightful Detective Skinner puts it:

“we’ve got nothing to go on here. As far as we’re concerned, [Chris] hooked up with someone, brought them back here, things turned ugly, and he came out the worst for it. We’ve got no witnesses, you claim there’s no motive, and I’ve got no reason to waste valuable police time on yet another dead rent boy. So, if either of you think of something else, let me know. Otherwise, I’m done here.”

Unfortunately Detective Skinner isn’t alone in this thinking. This was very much the attitude of the time with the rise of AIDS, or the Gay Plague as it was egregiously called, certainly not helping matters amongst those with minds narrower than the space between the ground and a snake’s belly.

 

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UK press attitudes to AIDS in the 1980s were truly horrific. I remember these headlines well and even though I never knowingly knew anyone with the disease or even any out gay people, I could never understand how they could print and get away with such utter bile and how anyone could be so cruel and show such lack of compassion to another human being.

 

With Chris’s death, Joe’s life is turned upside down in an instant. Friends since school, Chris and Joe grew up in the same village together. Both are gay, but whereas Chris enjoyed a life free from the closet in London, Joe stayed within it. Chris had defied his parents wish to follow in the family firm by coming to London to study fashion and pursue his dreams of becoming a fashion designer, whilst Joe stayed behind. After graduating, Chris began to carve out a successful, blossoming career in London, setting up his own label, Sexton and Jones, with his business partner Gavin Jones. When Chris invites Joe down to stay with him for the weekend, Joe is introduced to the bright lights of clubland and all that it has to offer. But Chris had got himself in with some shady people and with his death, and as Joe begins to investigate, he discovers that his friend had changed and maybe he didn’t know him as well as he thought.

Tainted Love is a short sharp read. Easily read in a single sitting, it can be likened to Freddie Mercury‘s shorts from the late 70’s early 80’s: it’s brief, tight(ly plotted), colourful and, er, bursting with interest.

 

Freddie shorts 2
Freddie Mercury: Packing more than story into those short shorts. Although if those shorts could speak, oh the stories they could tell…

 

Crikey, is it getting hot in here? Are you feeling hot? I’m feeling hot. Mind if I open a window a tad? Gracious… there, that’s much better.

So, where were we? Ah yes, my review of Tainted Coc… Love! Tainted Love. I’ll just open that window a bit more…

Right!

In case you hadn’t guessed by now, Tainted Love is a novella. It may only run to a scant 125 pages, but within this T.S. Hunter packs in a lot of story. It is all perfectly paced and gets right to the point. There are no sub-plots to distract you, but there are red herrings to keep you guessing. Although told in the third person, each chapter more or less focusses on the POV of one of the characters. There are quite a few characters squeezed into TL, and each one is fully formed and individual with natural and realistic dialogue. Considering that this book is the start of a series and therefore has to introduce everything; the characters, premise, locations, etc, the pace is extremely well judged. It gets to the point quickly and rarely lets up from there. This isn’t an action thriller – there’s no car chases and shoot outs in the streets, but it is no less dramatic for it and this is a story that comes from the characters first and foremost. It is a story of friendships old and new, of grief, of boundaries tested and attitudes challenged. The rise of HIV/AIDS is something that I feel will feature more as the series progresses, and don’t forget that this was the year before the homophobic legislation Section 28 was tabled by the then Conservative government. Fuelled by the fear of the spread of HIV/AIDS and the perceived threat to the idea of family, it banned the promotion of homosexuality and homosexual relationships in schools and colleges in the UK. Maybe we’ll see these themes explored more in later books.

Speaking of characters, there is of course one more that deserves mention: Soho itself. Mr. Hunter paints a Soho that is, as mentioned at the top of this review, a cosmopolitan, colourful, slightly dangerous community that never sleeps:

“The street was quiet. It was already late. Pink and red neon lights offering girls, sex and fun reflected off the oily, damp pavement. Chris blew out a thin line of smoke and shivered. He set off towards the all-night cafe on the corner. A strong coffee would clear his head, and he definitely needed a clear head tonight. The cafe had large single pane windows, looking out over the street. A couple of girls—punks in pink and black—sat at a table by the window, staring at him as he walked in, expressions barely shifting as he smiled at them. He turned his back on them and then blew a quick kiss over his shoulder. Cheer up, love. He grinned, but their aggressive snarls remained fixed.”

The length of this book, as with many novellas, makes talking about it in any detail very difficult. It would be very easy to spoil the story. Just like Mr. Mercury’s shorts there is a lot to discover in here, and so I shall leave that up to you to discover it.

Throughout this review you may have noticed that I have referred to the author as T.S. or Mr. Hunter and this is because no one seems to know his real name. Actually, I do, but I have been sworn to secrecy by Red Dog Press on pain of something, um, painful. There isn’t even an author photo of the mysterious Mr. H. An email requesting one to Red Dog was met with a big fat nada (but they are working on it).

 

mystery-person
What do the initials T.S stand for? Is it Tony Spencer Hunter? Terry Sebastian Hunter? Teriyaki Supernoodle Hunter? The Silent Hunter? Trained Squirrel Hunter? Tartan Scrotum Hunter? I guess we shall never know 🤔

 

Tainted Love is an assured, confident and gripping start to the Soho Noir series of novellas. It has all of the shady crime lords, drag queens, club culture and homophobic coppers that you’d expect from the era, but it skilfully avoids slipping into cliche and 80s stereotypes by creating main characters who are believable, sympathetic (on the part of the good guys, at any rate), and likeable. The 1980s setting is an important and evocative one in the history of gay rights. We have come a long way since then, but with the steady rise of the far right in many areas, and with countries like Brunei now punishing homosexuality by death by stoning for fucks sake, it’s important to know that there is still a long way to go yet. Books such as Tainted Love would most likely not have been published in the UK back in 1985, at least not outside of areas like Soho and specialist shops such as Gay’s The Word. If LGBT literature and books such as this had’ve been available freely back then then my life could have turned out quite differently, but that is possibly for another post another time 😅

Tainted Love is highly recommended, and I cannot wait to see what the other books in the series have in store and to watch our little gang of ‘cozy’ crimefighters grow and develop. Maybe one of them will adopt a fluffy beret? Only time shall tell. Marvellous stuff.

You can buy Tainted Love directly from Red Dog Press HERE or from Amazon wherever you are in the world HERE.

 

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There are still FIVE more books to come in this series and look how gorgeous they will be sitting on your bookshelf. Definitely ones to buy in physical format. And here’s hoping they all have covers as inspired as this one 😉

 

NOW, it’s GIVEAWAY time. Oh yes, this is a most generous blog tour. You see that photo down there? Yes, that photo just below this lettering here, well, you can win all that (Signed Copy of Tainted Love, a fabulous “Go Away I’m Reading” tote bag, a rainbow button badge, and, possibly most importantly of all, some chocolate), just by clicking on the link in the caption and doing whatever it is that it asks you to do. It really is that simple, Bon luck and may the Force be with you

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Click HERE to enter and win all of the above goodness.

 

Don’t forget to check out all of the other awesome stops on the Tainted Love blog tour. Take a look at this lot 😍

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15 Comments on “Tainted Love (Soho Noir Series Book 1) – T. S. Hunter @TSHunter5 @RedDogTweets #SohoNoir #LGBTBooks

  1. Goodness me, Mart, I have no words! (except maybe bludgeon, I do LOVE that word, and I did say it with you 😂) I’m so happy my review is scheduled and ready to go cos I’d surely succumb to stage fright (blog fright? 🤔) and not be able to form a sentence let alone a whole review after reading this glorious one 😳 Love the pics btw! Except the earworm one, that was hardly necessary was it 😒

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I’m waiting for the earwig complaints 😂 And I’m chuffed you ‘bludgeoned’ with me. Thank you for the kind words. I always get blog fright (love that expression, btw). I was still deliberating on some of it at 6am this morning, but I left it alone. Just 😂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aww thanks 😊 But you’re a really tough act to follow my beardy friend 😄 Mine will just seem very dry and boring! Maybe I should add a last-minute Freddie pic to brighten things up 🤔 I have no idea why you’d have blog fright, your reviews are pieces of art!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes I do know how it is, but I’m not the brilliant writer you are 😄 Not too far, I would expect nothing less 😊 It’s good to have you back btw, it’s been a while!

        Liked by 1 person

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