It was last year around this time that Paul D. Brazill, author of “Last Year’s Man”, that wrote about Tom Leins’s “Skull Meat” calling it “Brit Grit at it’s grittiest.” A few days later I reviewed Leins’s book and wrote, “If you like your crime fiction filled with dive bars, whore houses, and vicious beatings then Leins’ ‘Skull Meat’ will be the best 99¢ you will have ever spent.”
Leins’s “Meat Bubbles and Other Stories” (review) was recently published by Near to the Knuckle and in September, All Due Respect Books will be publishing his book “Repetition Kills You”.
David: I’ve read “Skull Meat” and “Meat Bubbles” and the first question that comes to mind is, “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Tom: That’s a very good question, David!
When I came up with the idea of “Skull Meat”, I wanted it to be a raw, nasty blast of dirty noir that made people sit up and take notice. A debut single to test the water before an album (short story collection).
It wasn’t totally representative of the other Paignton Noir material I had been working on at that point, but people responded favourably to the grubby violence and lurid antagonists, which encouraged me to go darker and harder with “Snuff Racket” and “Meat Bubbles”.
To be honest, the first version of “Meat Bubbles & Other Stories” that I worked on was less extreme, and I actually gave it a ‘Skull Meat remix’ for publication, which basically meant maximum Wet-Look – the deranged ex-cop who takes protagonist Joe Rey under his wing. Every time Wet-Look appears you know that something horrendous will happen before too long, and I had a lot of fun reworking those tamer stories with a nastier slant.
In my flash fiction I have always liked creating visceral, memorable scenes. I didn’t realise how brutally effective this approach could be when stitching them together for a novelette-length work – or a collection – but people seem to appreciate the darkness.
To answer your question: “I don’t know”, but I can assure you that my next book, “Repetition Kills You” represents a nervous step towards the light – a bit like a captive stumbling out of a sex dungeon, I suppose…
David: Most of your stories are set in Paignton which is kind-of near where Broadchurch was filmed. Now your Paignton is like Gotham at its worse but with no superheroes. It’s safe to say that you will never get the key to the city and that you might be driven out by pitchforks under torch light. Your description of Paignton is so disturbing that I even went on to Google Street View to see what kind of hell the city was. How did you come about building your version of Paignton?
Tom: Broadchurch-meets-Batman! I should put that on the cover – the books would sell millions!
Put it this way, if someone does turn this material into a TV show, it will be more like the unrelentingly grim Red Riding (a valiant effort at bringing the wonderful David Peace books to the small screen) than Broadchurch.
The Batman reference is interesting too, as reading superhero stories with my son in recent years has definitely impacted on my storytelling. (Well, it has influenced my commitment to larger-than-life villains and alliterative character names at any rate…)
Anyway… the Paignton Noirscape has been painstakingly assembled over the course of the last decade. Part memory, part imagination, and stuffed with eye-popping observational details, which people probably think I have made up! Some of the location names have been changed (to avoid legal action), but the landscape and geography have been preserved. Ultimately, this is my interpretation of Paignton, as filtered through the prism of my obsession with US crime fiction. (ie. My interpretation of Torbay Road is influenced by Andrew Vachss’s hellish version of Times Square in the ‘80s!)
Paignton Noir isn’t just an obscure crime sub-genre – it also has its own pub crawl: the Paignton Death Crawl, which me and my mates roll out on special occasions. For a small town, this place has a lot of pubs, which probably explains why most of Rey’s cases resemble pub crawls rather than conventional investigations…
David: Have any pudden eaters taken issue with your depiction of their city?
Tom: Nice – you have definitely done your homework on Paignton!
The response from local media outlets to “Meat Bubbles” has been less lukewarm and more frozen over, which is probably to be expected. The combination of cover/synopsis/opening line is pretty emphatic, and lets you know that you are in for a rough ride! If hardboiled crime is a niche, then I’m deep in the crevice of that niche.
Weirdly, I have just started work on a new book, which I think will hold greater appeal for this town’s predominantly elderly population. It has the working title ‘Pig Alley’ and starts off in 1859 – the year the railway was extended to Paignton – also the same year as the pudding riot you alluded to in your question!
It won’t be a pure historical thriller, but there are going to be numerous nuggets of local history entwined with the story. It will be a bit like The Da Vinci Code – but sloshed on supermarket booze and eviscerated with a pig-knife.
David: On your blog, you write mainly about your accomplishments. I kid, you write book reviews and do author interviews focusing on independent crime fiction. What is it about this slice of the genre that you find attractive?
Tom: Independent crime fiction scratches the itch that other thrillers don’t scratch for me. With a few notable exceptions, my crime fiction tastes have always veered towards the leftfield end of the scale, and the mainstream holds limited appeal for me.
Funnily enough, I started buying e-books from independent crime publishers when I won a £20 Amazon voucher in a short story competition in 2014. I haven’t really stopped since, and I think it is vitally important to buy books from smaller publishers, review books from smaller publishers and give these authors a platform.
When I started Dirty Books, I wanted a standalone blog unrelated to my own site, Things To Do In Devon When You’re Dead, which I slightly regret, as Dirty Books generates far more traffic!
The first two books I reviewed on the site were Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias (Broken River Books) and Down In The Devil Hole by David Jaggers (Near To The Knuckle), which hopefully set the tone. Since then there has been plenty of coverage of the likes of from All Due Respect, Shotgun Honey, Down & Out Books, Near To The Knuckle, No Exit Press…
To be honest, I abandon more books than I finish these days, and try to only review books that excite me. I gain very little satisfaction from skewering shit books. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all, right? That said, I really wish I had the time to write about more books and interview more authors, as it is a real pleasure.
David: “Repetition Kills You” is a new book coming out in September on All Due Respect Books. Tell me about the book? Are we still in Paignton?
Tom: Yes, I am very excited about this one! It is a continuation of the over-arching Paignton Noir narrative. It is a self-contained, standalone book, but it follows on from “Skull Meat” and “Meat Bubbles”, for any readers who committed to maintaining the continuity.
The book comprises 26 short stories, presented in alphabetical order, from ‘Actress on a Mattress’ to ‘Zero Sum’. Combined in different ways, they tell a larger, more complex story. The narrative timeline is warped, like a blood-soaked Möbius Strip. It goes round in circles—like a deranged animal chasing its own tail.
If “Skull Meat” was the debut single, and “Meat Bubbles” was the rarities album, then “Repetition Kills You” is definitely my concept album. Hopefully the greatest hits are still to come!
David: Your other life was as a reviewer of movies at DVD Monthly. Give me five of your best bad movies.
Tom: Agh. Choosing between movies is even harder than choosing books. Before I start, I want to note that I don’t think these are bad movies – I think they are bad-ass movies!
“Death Warrant” (1990)
Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as a cop who goes undercover in a Californian prison to bust an organ trafficking ring and go toe-to-toe with his psychotic nemesis The Sandman. This was the first Van Damme movie I rented this from Visual Video in the early ‘90s, and I like it so much that I wrote an entire story inspired by it for ‘This Book Ain’t Nuttin to Fuck With: A Wu-Tang Tribute Anthology’ a couple of years ago. Paignton Noir-meets-Wu-Tang-meets-Van Damme! I’m now seriously considering doing an entire short story collection inspired by Van Damme movies. Watch this space.
“Nico: Above The Law” (1988)
Deep down, I have always preferred Van Damme to Seagal is he takes far more beatings, and lacks Big Steve’s invincible status, which makes for better… erm, drama. I discovered Seagal through Under Siege, but his debut movie Nico is a classic. Sadly, it was all downhill from there… Seagal admitted to a Russian journalist last year that he is now exactly twice the weight he was when he made Nico, which is pretty staggering.
Sure, the opening 20 minutes with Maggie Grace pretending to be a ditzy teenager are toe-curlingly awful, but Neeson’s subsequent investigation into her disappearance is tremendous. This one divided the DVD Monthly office, but I was an enthusiastic cheerleader! People are unlikely to look back on the post-Taken ‘Dad-spolitation’ era favourably, and the fact that the producers fucked things up so spectacularly with the sequels just underlines how good this movie was.
This is probably my favourite straight-to-DVD movie of all time: a brutal prison drama starring Stephen Dorff, a heavily bearded Val Kilmer and Harold Perrineau from ‘Oz’, on the other side of the bars, who stars as a sadistic CO. I doubt I would have discovered this if I wasn’t scraping around for titles to fill the straight-to-DVD section at DVD Monthly in whichever month it was released. Check it out!
“Blood & Bone” (2009)
I love fight movies, and this one – starring the unstoppable Michael Jai White – is a dirty dose of bareknuckle trash. Eamonn Walker (Kareem Said from ‘Oz’) co-stars, and the late Kimbo Slice features in a minor role. Bareknuckle B-movies are ten-a-penny nowadays, but this one takes some beating.
Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. His short stories have been published by the likes of Akashic Books, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Flash Fiction Offensive, Horror Sleaze Trash and Spelk Fiction.
A pair of novelettes, SKULL MEAT and SNUFF RACKET, are available via Amazon. MEAT BUBBLES & OTHER STORIES was released by Near To The Knuckle in June 2018, and REPETITION KILLS YOU will be published by All Due Respect (an imprint of Down & Out Books) on 21st September 2018.
Thanks for stopping by reading this interview with Tom Leins.