This review contains violence, language, substance abuse, nudity, and sexual content. Do not proceed if you would find any of this offensive.
Stepping into a Tom Leins’s Paignton Noir story is like immersing yourself in a vat of feces, vomit, and blood. With “Slug Bait”, the fifth installment of his Paignton Noir series, Leins guides the willing and unwilling into his hyper-violent world. This is a book that, if read by the authorities, could quite possibly get Leins sectioned. Think of some of the most gruesome scenes you’ve ever seen on film and TV; Leins says, “Hold my beer.”
Here’s the other thing, Leins can write. The action moves along at a blistering pace and his fight scenes are brief and savage. His descriptions are like Chandler without worrying about decency and decorum. For example, the opening paragraph:
The sky above the Dirty Lemon is the colour of diseased lungs. Fat clouds swirl above the pub, and the bronchial sky erupts as I push through the double-doors – bullets of rain thudding into the wheelchair ramp behind me.
As good as that is, Leins’s writing would make Tipper Gore convulse and collapse into a puddle of her own urine and drool. A few paragraphs later, Leins writes:
Remy makes half-hearted speech-marks in the air with his sausage-like fingers as he tells me that his “niece” – Claudette – is missing. Wants me to find her. He passes me a photograph. It’s a typical small-town glamour shot: badly lit and barely legal. She is a toothy brunette with small, uneven breasts. She doesn’t so much have blowjob lips as gob-job gums. I feel my cock twitch, take Remy’s money and finish my pint. In that order.
My only misgiving about “Slug Bait” is the ebook formatting, but that is something that can be easily fixed. Also, make sure you have a UK dictionary installed when reading. If not from England, you’ll most likely need it.
I cannot think of a better way to spend .99¢. So instead of binging on “Friends” or some equally lame-ass shit on Netflix, purchase “Slug Bait” by Leins and be happy you don’t live next door to this sick motherfucker.
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.
If the hard-boiled edge of Mickey Spillane’s “I, the Jury” and the drug-infused rantings of William S. Burroughs’s “Naked Lunch” fused together in a whiskey-soaked opiate haze and procreated a demented crime fiction writer, Tom Leins would be that aborted fetus.
Leins writes with a strong vile style and his short story collection “Meat Bubbles and Other Stories” (Near to the Knuckle) does not follow standard mystery decorum. If that’s your jam then your face may melt when you begin reading this book. However, if you like syphilis-ridden whores, depraved drug use, and unprovoked brutal beatings, “Meat Bubbles” should be on the top of your TBR.
At this point, the reader may be thinking the reviewer is joking or exaggerating. I’m not. Seriously, I’m not. If I haven’t dissuaded you yet, this is the first sentence of the eponymous story should, “I carefully peel up my shirtsleeve with bloody fingers. The scalpel wound across my left arm looks like a splayed cunt.”
Now that they’re gone, let’s go on with it. Leins’s stories don’t exist on the edge where crime and civility meet, they burst through it to a town called Paignton–imagine your town’s police blotter on steroids. Leins’s main character throughout “Meat Bubbles” is Joy Rey, a barely functioning alcoholic and private investigator who prowls the city’s darkest streets. Rey will do any dirty work from finding lost criminals to delivering messages that won’t be forgotten. He does most of his work for money, but Rey, who is more comfortable at a dirty bar than a coffee shop, would probably do it for free.
This latest collection of short stories by Leins also includes a short novella that Leins self-published earlier this year, “Snuff Racket”. I said of that novella, “If you don’t mind violence like Sonny Corleone’s beating of Carlo Rizzi then Tom Leins’s ‘Snuff Racket’ is for you.” I reviewed his first novella “Skull Meat” saying that “Leins has created a world where Tarantino’s characters would not live past their first five minutes in town …”
With “Meat Bubbles”, Leins continues to beat on our anesthetized sensibilities creating crime fiction for the remorseless and bloodthirsty.
There’s noir and then there’s Paignton Noir. If you have never heard of this type of noir before that’s okay Tom Leins invented it. Leins takes a tourist town on the southwest coast of England and turns it into a cross between Boston’s Combat Zone and San Francisco’s Tenderloin where killers, pornographers, pedophiles, gamblers, and drug addicts are the everyday people in the streets and bars. The Paignton city fathers will not be giving Leins a key to the city anytime soon.
Leins begins Snuff Racket a has-been American actor making a bad movie in Milan in the 70s. Then Snuff Racket swings forward to present day Paignton. Crime is the air that Paigntonians breathe and horror is their landscape.
The barmaid, Spacey Tracey, is outside – scrubbing blood off the wheelchair ramp. There was a fight last night. Not a bad one – a standard mid-week scuffle – but a fight all the same. Seeing rotten teeth smashed out on railings at closing time may seem shocking to some, but I’ve witnessed amateur dental work perpetrated by hoodlums with pliers and chisels in Brixham basements. This kind of low-rent shit pales in comparison.
Forcibly hired to find a snuff film, a private investigator heads out on the Paignton streets, not so much kicking ass and taking names, but giving and receiving brutal beatings. If you are a touch squeamish and think only cats should solve murders, stay away. If you don’t mind violence like Sonny Corleone’s beating of Carlo Rizzi then Tom Leins’ Snuff Racket is for you. Going for the price of a cup of coffee in the 1980s and also a quick read – an hour tops – you should buy this today. After you’re done digging this and you want to read some more Paignton Noir, pick up Leins’ Skull Meat (review) and wait for a collection of short stories coming out in a few months. Leins also has Repetition Kills You coming out in September on All Due Respect Books.
Gritty is a word often used in reviewing crime fiction. I used it to describe Neliza Drew’s All Bridges Burning as I wrote that it “is a gritty Southern Noir filled with drugs, death, and destruction.” But Tom Leins’ self-published Skull Meat is the epitome of gritty crime fiction, reading his noir novella is like chewing on a mouthful of sand mixed with shards of sea shells. With lines like this “I double-check the Polaroid in my pocket and sigh. Creepshow is not just fat, he’s swollen. Fuck. I’ve seen less bloated corpses dragged out of Paignton harbour,” you can feel the fragments of glass cutting into your fingers as you turn the pages.
Set in southwestern England, Paignton along with Torquay and Brixham make up an area that is collectively known as the English Riviera, but Leins’ version of Paignton is a decrepit and more dangerous version of Poisonville in Hammett’s Red Harvest. Joe Rey is a private investigator but many of the Paignton criminals see him more as hired muscle, though Rey likes to think of himself as more a fixer. When Rey meets up with someone he is fixing, words are not usually exchanged, instead uses his fists, feet, and anything else that can be picked up and smashed on the skull of someone Rey that needs a readjustment.
I don’t recognise her face, but I recognise her shoes. Expensive-looking erotic footwear. Not the kind of shoes you can easily buy on Torbay Road. She performed the floorshow at the Dirty Lemon on Thirsty Thursday last week. At one point she lowered herself onto an empty hooch bottle, and the crowd went fucking schizoid.
Her cracked lips frame a broken smile. At least someone has something to smile about around here.
As I walk towards her, the door clicks shut behind me. I turn to see Luther Smart drifting into the middle of the room, clutching a choke-rope.
Luther is Roland’s guttersnipe half-brother. He’s a pockmarked coke-fiend with a rictus grin. Crooked as a deformed snake and twice as ugly. He’s also really fucking stupid.
I glance around for something to distract him with, and see a fat stack of cash sitting on Roland’s desk. I nudge the desk with my hip, and the stack of banknotes topples onto the carpet.
The only thing that Luther likes more than cocaine is money. He eyes me warily and crouches to retrieve the cash. As he stoops down I kick him in his bastard throat. He crawls towards me, so I stamp down on the top of his skull, hard enough to hear it crack like a box of eggs.
Leins has created a world where Tarantino’s characters would not live past their first five minutes in town — brutal does not cover the violence that lives in the pages of Skull Meat. 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.