Skinzz – Wrath James White
Deadite Press – 2015 (First published 2012)
A splatterpunk novel about violence against racist skinheads? As soon as I found out that this book existed, it bypassed all of the others on my reading list. I read it over a single afternoon. Honestly though, I wanted to like it far more than I actually liked it.
This is the story of a gang of punks and a rival gang of skinheads. The skins beat up some punks and then the punks beat up some skins and so on. The most brutal acts of violence are performed by the racists, and I didn’t feel like they ever got their comeuppance. This was a bit disappointing, but it’s probably realistic.
A few years ago I did a bunch of posts about horror novels centered on rock’n’rollers. A problem I noticed with a few of those books was the authors’ obvious ignorance of the musical genres they were writing about. Skinzz was a little different. This novel is horrifically violent, but there’s no supernatural element involved. This is a book about a rivalry that did and does exist. Realism is more important here, and I was glad to see Wrath James White reference some fairly appropriate bands.
The skinheads listen to Skrewdriver (an overtly racist band) and Agnostic front. I know Agnostic Front had that one dodgy song, but I really don’t think they were ever bona fide racists. That being said, there have definitely been a bunch of racist skinheads who have listened to that band. One of the racist skinheads in this book talks about wanting to go to a Suicidal Tendencies show. I thought this might have been an error when I read it first, but then I realised it was probably intended to make him sound dumb.
The support band at the Suicidal Tendencies concert is called Terrorist Threat, and they apparently have a song called “Guilty of Being white”. “Guilty of Being White” is a real song by a band called Minor Threat, and while its lyrics are painful to read in 2020, I reckon it’s safe to say that Minor Threat probably weren’t hateful racists. I don’t know why Wrath James White chose to change their name for this book when he left the others unaltered.
While the skinheads listen to mostly non-racist hardcore, the punks just listen to Ministry. Ministry certainly aren’t the first band that jump to mind when I think 1988 punk rock, but in 1988 they were still really cool.
Honestly, I wasn’t hugely impressed with this book. It was very straightforward. The punks are good, and the skins are bad. I mean, racist skinheads are objectively bad, but lets be realistic, so are most punks. Mack, the main character, is a bit too likeable. He’s smart, tall, rebellious, strong, sexy, caring, romantic and cool. Have you ever met a punk? They’re rarely any of those things. Most of the punks I know are ugly, disgruntled dwarves. One of the punks in this book is called “Demon” too. Yuck.
I was hoping that the punks were going to kidnap and torture some of the skins, but that never happened. There’s a violent showdown at the end of the book, but it fell short of what I was looking forward too. Between the simplistic plot and characters and the lack of extreme brutality, this book kinda sucked. I genuinely wanted to like it, but it just wasn’t very good. It felt like it needed a chapter at the end where the protagonist hunts down the really bad skin and brutalises him in an unspeakable manner.
I don’t know much about Wrath James White other than that he used to be a fighter, but that fact along with his kindness to his protagonist suggests to me that this novel might be slightly autobiographical. I had heard good things about him before, so maybe his other books are better. This one wasn’t really awful, but I can’t say I liked it a whole bunch. Maybe I’ll give Wrath James White another go some day.
Last complaint: the author and the publisher refer to this book as Skinzz, but isn’t that the Nazi SS rune on the cover? Shouldn’t it be SkinSS?