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Bad-Ass Books with Derrick Horodyski: THE RUNNER by Paul Heatley

After writing one of my favorite stand-alone Close To The Bone novellas AN EYE FOR AN EYE, crime author Paul Heatley recently wrote a prequel and a sequel for this book. Hoping for the same kind of violent, character-driven plot I found in AN EYE FOR AN EYE, I grabbed a copy of THE RUNNER (or the prequel if you will). And I wasn’t disappointed.

This series is set in Newcastle, England—and Jackson Stobbart's job involves holding illicit drug money for the local Doyle crime family. But when Stobbart's girlfriend Cathy crazily snatches the money and vanishes from town, all hell breaks loose. Racing against Davey Hoy, the Doyle family muscle, Stobbart knows if he doesn't find them first, the end of his life and Cathy's will be a bloody and violent mess. Scrambling for clues to her whereabouts, he visits their old haunts and searches his addled memory for leads to her past … desperate to find her trail.

Painfully aware the merciless Doyles will stop at nothing to recover their ill-gotten gains, Jackson must also decide: How far is he willing to go?

THE RUNNER certainly provided me with a hot fast ride.

Highly Recommended.

Like many who live in The Gutter, badass Crime-lover Derrick Horodyski lives his Life on-the-lam tryin’ to avoid the Man. Derrick took ta doin' book reviews for Flash Fiction Offensive in the summer of 2015, when he hooked up with hey-day Miscreant editor Tom Pitts. Derrick ain't a professional writer. And don't get paid neither. If he buys a book and he don't like it then he don't say shit. But if he digs a book? He kindly wants the author and the rest of us crime-lovin' hooligans to know! The best ways to reach Derrick are by smoke signals or carrier pigeons.

Crime Book Publisher ADR is Open for Submissions! With ALL DUE RESPECT publisher Chris Rhatigan explains what he's looking for ...

Crime book publisher All Due Respect (ADR) seeks to fill 5 slots on its 2020 calendar and is presently accepting Submissions. An imprint and partner of Florida publisher Down & Out Books, ADR publishes it's own tawdry brand of "Low Life Literature" in the form of novels, novellas, and short story collections.

ADR's publications are typically classified as Noir. Characters you'll meet in ADR books include: criminals, thugs and douchebagsembezzlers and loan sharksadulterers and whores. (Think every kind of creep that your worried mom and pops tried warning you about.)

Noir at ADR does NOT involve "heroes" or "Cinderella happy endings." Even lottery winners are "losers." Any happy ending moments at ADR are likely to involve a hooker, last 60 secondsand result in a case of the clap if one is luckyor a bullet to the brain if one is not.

Like any publisher (whether books or online mags), ADR's coffee-quaffing publisher and freelance editor Chris Rhatigan suggests that writers read some of ADR's current book offerings BEFORE submitting if they haven't already done so. Anyone with an interest can easily find these books by tapping or clicking here. Writers whose stories have appeared here at Flash Fiction Offensive (FFO) and have also seen their books published by ADR are too numerous to mention: but they include Matt Phillips, Tom Leins, Paul D. Brazill and Rob Pierce.

Just as Mr. Rhatigan loves prose that's lean and mean, his Submission Guidelines are short. We're hoping submitting writers will be both personable and "professional" and not idly waste his time. Like anything else in life, we only get One Chance to create a positive First Impression. So if you're interested in submitting to ADR but have never sent a manuscript and a short proposal ("pitch") to a book publisher, we highly recommend doing a bit of research on this topic prior to submitting.

Meanwhile, we used some aromatic magic beans to lure the often-reclusive Mr. Rhatigan (sometimes known as Keyser Soze) into stopping by FFO. And in a bit of quid pro quo, he kindly left our readers-who-also-write some quick but sage advice.

WITH ALL DUE RESPECT by Chris Rhatigan

A manuscript arrives in the All Due Respect inbox. It sits there for some time.

Might be a day, might be a week, might be an hour.

At some point, usually in the morning with a thermos of coffee, I open the manuscript.

There’s one thing I’m looking for from the first sentence.

I’m looking for conflict.

You may have heard this a hundred times, but there’s a reason for that: It’s easy to forget about conflict. You might focus on any number of other things—the details of setting or how to make your protagonist more likable.

But I can tell you that editors are always looking for conflict. So are literary agents, publishers, and just average readers.

You may have a 300-page manuscript with a dynamite ending, but if you don’t establish conflict in the first 20 pages, your manuscript is unlikely to make the cut.

Open any book on the shelves of your local bookstore and you’re likely to see conflict in the first paragraph, if not the first sentence. Take this opening sentence from Lee Child’s The Hard Way:

Jack Reacher ordered espresso, double, no peel, no cube, no china, and before it arrived at his table he saw a man’s life change forever.”

The reader knows from the first moment what this book will be about. The implied question—who is this man whose life has changed forever and how will Reacher become involved?—pushes the reader forward.

The conflict in the first few pages need not be the core of your novel’s plot. For example, one of the first novels our press published was Uncle Dust by Rob Pierce. The novel begins with Dust, a bank robber, discovering he is missing two hundred dollars. Dust goes on a mission to find the money, roughly interrogating his girlfriend and her kid.

The protagonist wants something and other characters are in his way. It doesn’t matter that it’s a small amount; he will not stand losing the money. This is a small conflict setting up a larger conflict that also tells the reader a bit about Dust’s character.

It’s possible an editor or agent will continue reading past page 20 if you have an engaging voice or a fascinating character.

It’s much more likely they will continue reading because you’ve established conflict.

Chris Rhatigan is a freelance crime fiction editor and publisher of All Due Respect Books.

His Own Private Idaho by Michael D. Davis

When you live life in The Gutter, one man's small potatoes can prove another's greatest treasures.

His Own Private Idaho by Michael D. Davis

Looney read the name painted on the grimy window—Another Dead-End Diner—rolled his blue eyes and agreed. Mumbling to himself he wandered inside and plopped down at the sticky counter, next to another customer. A rodeo clown-face dude with a jagged overbite; cowboy shirt and Levis, brand new iPhone MS Max clipped to his leather belt.

“A chocolate lathered doughnut and a cherry soda from the heavens,” Looney told the waitress before she even glanced his way. 
Bobbie Lee Walker scowled. Not that anyone noticed. Pushing stray hair behind an ear she ambled her size ten feet towards the pop machine. Odd ones came and went, but this guy took the crown. Two raggedy-ass suit coats, the larger one worn over the inner. A fedora that had been cut in two … then stitched back together. One half blue. The other like a severed tongue—pickled in a jar of piss and spicy mustard. And Jesus H. Christ, glasses ’bout as thick as space shuttle windows. 
Setting the drink in front of him Bobbie Lee told Looney how much things were going to cost him.
Looney reached into his coats … slowly, then frantically. “Where’s my wallet?”
“You can’t pay?” Bobbie Lee feigned disbelief.
“Dear Jesus and Mother Mephistopheles. I had that wallet fifty years.”
“Look, this ain’t no soup kitchen. If you can’t—”
Clown-face gorilla with the overbite swung his stool around. “I’ll pay for the old-timer, Bobbie Lee.”
“Thank you,” Looney said. “I hate this. Downright embarrassing. But I will feast like a king and drink the blood of peasants in this cherry soda now that you’ve arrived on your white horse.”
 “You seem a little disoriented. Do you know where you are? Can I call someone for you?”
Looney stood and shook his hand. “Why Grumpton, Idaho, of course, the place with blue dogs, yellow cats and a sun that shines twice a day.” Gone fifty years. And only back a week. The town wasn’t likely to erect a statue in his honor. But here Looney was—
And here he planned to stay.
“Don’t you worry none, sir knight. I’ll be the best this world has.”
“Okay, then, take care. Catch you later, Bobbie Lee.”
“Too ta loo to you and you,” Looney said. Condescending sumbitch. What Looney wanted was something hardier than a doughnut and more substantial than prechewed green beans. But for that he’d need to wait.
In a scraped up old Dodge Omni—the gas tank close to slurping fumes—Looney puttered south on state Highway 93  … until he spotted a kid shooting BBs at a squirrel.
Looney slowed to a crawl, rolled his window down. “Hey, pipsqueak shouldn’t you be in school?”
“Shouldn’t you be dust?”
“Eh, screw you, you little turd faced bastard.” Looney waggled the phone he’d slipped off of Magilla Gorilla’s belt. “Want a brand new iPhone?”
“Got one, old man.”
“Yeah, shitstain. But you sell this phone to some other rotten wood-smellin’ punk for a profit.”
“What you want for it?”
“The BB gun.”
“Only two BB’s left.”
“Don’t care, Furry Brick.”
“Alright,” said Looney tossing the phone and snatching the gun.
He aimed the Omni west, caught Gunther Ave back into town. Parked in the crumbling alley behind Just Cash
Waited only seconds till a guy came out and lumbered to his car.
“Hug Volkswagen, Asscheek,” Looney said shoving the BB gun into the guy’s back.
“It’s a Chevy.”               
“Don’t back sass me or I’ll blow your meatball into chunks a dust bunny wouldn’t eat. Now, where’s your wallet?”
“Right coat pocket.”
“Here we are. Ooh, good, Toadball, real good. I see a dozen hundreds. Bettin’ you get paid every two weeks. You goin’ anywhere after this?”
“Errands, errands got any more to run? Or you good for the weekend?”
“My mom needs groceries.”
“I’ll leave you half.”
“You deaf? Stupid? Said I’d leave half.”
“Gee, thanks.”
“Now, put your head on the car and count to three-hundred and seventy-four, Paperliver.”
“One … two …”
Looney was back in the alley by the count of eighty-six. Ducking into a Gas-n-Go station he stopped and filled the tank. Then cranked a left on Juniper and deftly slid the Dodge into its usual spot.
Glancing at his cracked Timex, he snuck around the side of the building … and dropped on a bench out front.
He’d barely parked his keester when a stern-faced woman in pickle green scrubs joined him.
“I’ve been looking for you, Mr. Lloyd.”
Looney stared raptly at the brilliant blue sky. “Just wantchin’ the rain, Mizz Rambo.”
“That’s not my…never mind. We missed you at lunch again, Mr. Lloyd.”
“Had the squirts, Mizz Rambo. But seein’ your sweet cherry pie heiny has cured me praise the Lord.”
Steering him by the elbow she escorted him inside the Pleasant Vale Nursing Home. “Time to take your meds, Mr. Lloyd. And if you’re going to enjoy your Golden Years, you need to eat your lunch.” Looney shot her a goofy grin. Flush for cash again, tomorrow he’d snake over to The Stew Bowl too ta loo. Plenty of goodies there that he could sink his teeth into.
Like a big fried animal ass on a toasted bun—
And who knew what kind of fun.

Michael D. Davis was born and raised in a small town in Iowa. A high school graduate and avid reader he has aspired to be a writer for years. He's written over thirty short and flash stories as well as a novella—ranging in genre from comedy to horror—and some have been published in Close to the Bone online magazine, Horla, and The Dark City magazine. Folks can give him a holler on Twitter.

Temporarily Embarrassed Millionaires by Alec Cizak


When you live life in The Gutter the stakes are always high.

Temporarily Embarrassed Millionaires by Alec Cizak

One thing Chase’s wife couldn’t keep him from? Poker. He saved the skim on his paycheck from the gas station every other week and went to Hector Garza’s, a Lublin contractor who held a fifty-dollar tournament on Wednesday nights. She reminded Chase their son had been spitting up blood. The pills the doctor at St. Mary’s prescribed had worsened it. She wanted to take the boy to an acupuncture clinic in Chicago. Her coworker from the salon had said, “That Eastern shit cures everything.”

Chase promised her he’d place at the final table and bring home enough for the Chinese medicine and a twelve-piece from Church’s. He remembered this late in the tournament, just before the number of players dwindled to eight and a final table could be established.

He locked on a flush draw. Bet big on the flop, despite being two clubs shy. His opponent in the hand, a banker named Kelvin from Valpo, raised him. Enough to force him to go all in. Chase pushed his remaining chips. The dealer said, “Turn them over, gentlemen.”

Son of a bitch had trips. Chase had ignored the paired threes on the flop. For Christ’s sake. Who plays five-three? He showed his suited Jack-four.

The banker grimaced, like he’d tasted something awful. “Flat tire?”

Chase wanted to say, Go fuck yourself. Hector insisted the game remain PG-rated. He’d busted guys in the nose for less. Instead, he said, “Just need some luck.”

Kelvin scratched his elbows. The dealer burned a card and revealed a five of hearts. Chase walked around the table, spoke quietly to the banker. “My kid needs to see a special doctor.”

“Está loca?” Kelvin tried to trill the L.

Hector, prepping the final table with two fresh decks, said, “What’s going on?”

“Nothing.” Chase insisted the dealer show the last card. Not that it mattered.

“This chump,” said Kelvin, “wanted me to forfeit the hand. Trying to work a sob story on me.”

Hector booted Chase and told him not to return until he promised to conduct himself in an honorable manner. Chase stood at the bus stop outside the contractor’s condo, held his windbreaker tight to fight off an early winter chill. As always, the bus took its time. This allowed him to witness Kelvin leaving the game shortly after, counting his two-hundred and fifty-dollar last place prize. Chase followed him to his Range Rover. He said, “I give my chips to somebody, I expect them to protect them.”

“Get lost.” The banker waved his hand the way normal people shooed flies. He stuffed the fold of cash he’d been counting inside his patched sports jacket and pulled out a keychain shaped like a beer bottle.

Chase shoved the banker away from his car and grabbed his keys. “I want that money, Kelvin. I need it. You don’t.”

“The hell you talking about?” The banker took a swing.

Chase dodged him. “My kid needs this operation.”

“That’s not my problem.” He pretended to retreat, then snatched his keys before Chase could stop him.

Chase’s right hand closed into a fist and pulverized the banker’s throat. The banker staggered and dropped his keys on the oil-stained concrete. He fell into his Range Rover and collapsed onto his knees, choking. Chase knelt and sifted through his coat pockets until he found the money. Bus brakes hissed in the distance. He hustled to the stop and waited. The banker’s choking became violent. He didn’t turn around to look, but he felt certain he’d heard the banker trying to throw up and failing.


Chase’s wife sat in a wobbly rocker in the living room where they also ate their meals. Jimmy Fallon sucked off celebrities behind a cracked television screen. Chase burst into the apartment and said, “I got us, babe. I got us!”

She told him their son had vomited a gallon of blood. “Could have filled two milk jugs, easy.”

“It’s going to be all right.” He said he’d placed at the final table. She asked to see the money. He said, “I did us one better.” Then he explained how he’d stopped off at Village Pantry. “It occurred to me,” he said, “that we could turn this two-fifty into gold.” He showed her a stack of scratchers he’d purchased at the convenient store. “Break out your best dress, baby, the one you’ve never had to mend.”

He parked himself at the folding table they ate at and used an unwashed plastic knife to uncover the wealth hidden in the lottery tickets. His wife sank into the rocker and absorbed more bullshit from the TV. She refused to look at him, refused to let him know whether the sporadic heaves of her chest signaled weeping or laughter. Either reaction, he figured, appropriate for the solid days ahead.

Alec Cizak has been a creative nuisance since before the turn of the century. His annoying opinions on things like freedom and honorable brutality can be found all over the worldwide web and in various print journals and anthologies. He’s written a few of those relics called books which can be purchased online or at the hippest literary joints on the planet. He returns the people’s love as editor of Pulp Modern.

Authors on the Air host Pam Stack officially crowned a "Gutter Gal": she also has a chat with author Gabriel Valjan

Today Flash Fiction Offensive is duly pleased to announce the coronation of Authors on the Air host Pam Stack as a "Gutter Gal."  Heavy is the head that wears the crown, they say. But we believe this Goddess can handle our distinguished "honorific." After all, she survived her 1,000th radio interview with crime writer Beau Johnson last year (though we still don't know if Beau was wearing any pants ... despite the fuss he went to picking the "right" tie). And any woman who typically reads 400 books a year shouldn't have much problem rolling in a little dirt! She also grew up in Miami don't you know. So surely there's gotta be some skeletons in her closet!

While we could prattle about Pam all day, instead we'd like to introduce one of her latest radio guests, author and book reviewer Gabriel ValjanWinter Goose Publishing released Mr. Valjan's historical crime fiction mystery THE NAMING GAME (THE COMPANY FILES book 2) in early May.

Since Gabriel’s book centers on the troublesome death of Hollywood script-fixer Charlie Loew—who’s corpse is discovered in a seedy flophouse, with a cryptic list wrapped inside a handkerchief—we think it’s only fitting to feature Gabriel Valjin here in The Gutter as well.

Anyone with an interest can listen to Pam and Gabriel's Soundcloud broadcast by tapping or clicking here. We also truly hope you'll say hello to both. 

Pam Stack is the executive producer of the international digital media company Authors on the Air Global Network, host of Authors on the Air –and the publisher of Authors on the Air Press—which released the charity anthology BETRAYED in October 2018. An avid reader across genres, she generally tries to read 400 books a year. Owned by five beloved felines, Pam loves collecting art, and is endlessly fascinated by people who write books and are creative.

She is also an international award-winning crime victim advocate. You can easily find Pam at the following places:

You can also listen to her broadcasts on: Soundcloud; Stitcher; and Apple Podcasts

Gut-Shots: To Be Opened Upon My Death by Roy Dorman

Falling out of Love can lead to messy business. Especially in The Guter.

To Be Opened Upon My Death by Roy Dorman

“Two hours ago your husband gave me $25,000 to have you killed. He’ll give me another $25,000 when the job’s done,” said Johnny Baxter.

Johnny was meeting with the wife of Michael Farley, a local real estate wheeler-dealer, who was doing pretty well now that the housing market had finally started to turn around.

He and Jessica Farley were in a dark little working class watering hole a few blocks off Rush Street in downtown Chicago. It was 2:30 in the afternoon and they were the only customers in the place. The bartender was watching the Cubs game and barely looked at him when Johnny picked up drinks at the bar and carried them back to the booth. The volume on the TV was turned up loud and that worked just fine as far as Johnny was concerned.

“This briefcase right here has the $25,000. I was thinkin’ that maybe you’d like to up the ante,” said Johnny, pointing to battered black leather briefcase on the booth’s table top.

“Actually, since Illinois has some marital property provisions, I think that probably half of the money in that briefcase is technically mine,” said Jessica with a little smirk. “What if I gave you $25,000 plus that to kill Michael?”

“That’s still only $50,000. I was lookin’ to come out of this with a little more. That’s why I asked if you wanted to meet,” said Johnny. “To give you the chance to save your life. Michael’s got connections in town, ya know. There’d be some risk takin’ him out instead of you.”

Jessica had made some connections of her own recently. Just after they sat down she had taken a pistol equipped with a silencer from her purse and had it cradled in her lap. “I could go another $10,000, but that’s it. If you were going to kill me for $50,000, I don’t see why $50,000 wouldn’t be enough to do Michael. Risk must be a big part of your business.”

“Hey, I could kill you or Michael, I don’t care. Or even both of you if I feel pissy. Hell, I could just keep the $25,000 and let your estate sue me for breach of contract,” said Johnny, laughing at his own attempt at humor.

“So, you could kill me, or Michael, or both of us. I think that you left out one other option,” said Jessica as she shot Johnny point blank in the forehead. “You forgot neither. Neither is another option.”

At the sound of the muffled shot, the bartender looked around the bar with a puzzled look on his face but then went back to game. After putting the gun back into her purse, Jessica arranged Johnny so that he was sitting up straight in the booth and looking away from the bar. She picked up the briefcase and walked out. The bartender didn’t even see her leave. It wasn’t until a walk-off double knocked in the winning run ending the game in the bottom of the ninth that he finally came over to see if more drinks were needed.
Later that evening, Jessica was standing in the kitchen drinking a glass of wine when Michael got home. If he was surprised to see her, his face didn’t show it.

“So, how was your day, Michael?” asked Jessica. “Your dinner’s in the microwave; I’ll nuke it a bit while you wash up.”

Now Michael did show a little bit of confusion. He wondered why she was being so nice to him; so “wifey.” She hadn’t made him dinner in weeks. “Oh, I closed on a couple of properties and made offers on a couple of others that looked good,” he said. “Same ol’, same ol’. What about you?”

“Oh, we can talk when you sit down to dinner,” said Jessica.

When Michael returned, Jessica had put his dinner on the table in the place he had usually occupied back when they used to eat meals together. Jessica was sitting opposite him in her usual spot.

“Aren’t you going to have something to eat?” asked Michael as he started in on the fettuccini Alfredo.

“No, I had a late lunch; I’m just going to drink my dinner tonight.”

Michael saw that she had refilled her glass. He shrugged and continued to eat. He then watched as Jessica picked up a briefcase from the floor by her chair and set in on the table. She then aimed the pistol she’d had on her lap at Michael.

“I met with a business acquaintance of yours by the name of Johnny this afternoon,” said Jessica. “He wanted me to give him money to kill you. We couldn’t come to an agreement and I’m afraid I had to kill him.”

“Now hold on, Jessica,” said Michael. “You don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle.”

“Oh, I think I know as much as I need to; I know you pretty well. I made out three letters and gave them to people I trust this afternoon. Just in case you get any more ideas. Ya know, you should probably do the same; how do ya know I didn’t put something in that fettuccini?’

Johnny grimaced and set down his fork. “I think I know you better than you think….”

Just then, the doorbell rang. “Expecting company?” asked Jessica, standing up to get the door but not letting her aim waver from Michael’s chest.

“Yeah, I am. I think you’ll be surprised by who it is,” said Michael.

Jessica opened the door to an attractive young woman carrying a briefcase.

“Come in, come in,” said Jessica, waving the pistol toward the kitchen.

“I can come back later if you folks are in the middle of something,” said the woman.

“No, Brenda, come on in,” called Michael from the kitchen. “I was just about to tell Jessica about our little business arrangement.”

Brenda sat at the table and gave Michael a “What the hell are you doing?” look. “Just put the briefcase on the table next to that other one, Brenda,” said Jessica. “I can hardly wait to hear what you two cooked up.”

“Well,” started Michael. “Brenda here is, or was, Johnny’s wife. She wanted somebody to get rid of Johnny for her, but was afraid that whoever she talked to would take it back to Johnny. Brenda and I met when she was at an open house I was giving on the north side a few weeks back. We had a couple of drinks afterward and she let me know about her dilemma. Between the two of us, we came up with a plan that would work for everybody.”

“Everybody except Johnny, that is,” said Jessica.

“Right, right, everybody except Johnny,” laughed Michael. “I was to hire Johnny to kill you. When I met with Johnny and we settled on $50,000, I joked with him that I was getting by cheap; you would probably give him more to kill me. I knew that you had that pistol and that you probably wouldn’t be able to come with a deal you liked with Johnny. The rest is history, right?”

“Except, asshole, what if Johnny had just killed me?” asked Jessica. “What if he hadn’t taken the hint? Never mind, it’s done. So what’s in the briefcase, Brenda?”

Brenda looked at Michael and he nodded that she should go ahead and tell Jessica. “I offered Michael $50,000 to kill Johnny. Johnny’s briefcase there has the $25,000 down payment that I gave to Michael and he gave to Johnny to kill you. My briefcase here is the final $25,000 for killing Johnny.”

“It would appear that the money in these two briefcases belongs to me. After all, I killed Johnny, right? Now I might be stating the obvious here, but can either of you think of a reason that I shouldn’t just kill you both right now and move on with my life?” Jessica asked.

“Now that’s why I asked Brenda to come over tonight,” said Michael. “You and I both know that you haven’t been happy married to me for quite some time now. Brenda and I have been seeing each other and would like to be together. Ya know, get married. I’d give you a really great divorce settlement, plus the $50,000 is yours to keep. So whadda ya think?”

Jessica thought about it for five seconds. Then shot Michael and Brenda. With their unsavory business connections, the police would probably tie their deaths to Johnny’s. Since Jessica only knew a couple of small-time street thugs, they wouldn’t be likely to connect her to this mess. She just had to find a believable place to put the bodies so that they could be “discovered.”

“Let’s just hope these dopes didn’t have the sense to leave any “To Be Opened Upon My Death” letters,” she muttered, closing the trunk of Michael’s Cadillac.

Roy Dorman is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Benefits Office. Unlike many of the characters in the stories he writes, Roy rarely shoots people he disagrees with. He usually doesn’t even raise his voice. So much for “Write What You Know.” Roy has had stories published in Yellow Mama, Shotgun Honey, Near To the Knuckle, and a number of other online and print magazines including Dark Dossier.

"To Be Opened Upon My Death" first appeared at England's Close To The Bone

THE BRIT GRIT ADDICTION: Mr. Messy Business Jason Beech Cuffs England's Notorious Tom Leins

Hi Tom, All Due Respect published your Paignton Noir short story collection Repetition Kills You in September, and Close To The Bone will publish Boneyard Dogs: A Paignton Noir Mystery in July 2019.

What’s the vital ingredient in a Paignton noir mystery?

I’m glad you asked. When I published Skull Meat, the subtitle ‘A Paignton Noir Mystery’ was tongue-in-cheek—as any mystery fans who’ve read it probably realised. The subsequent e-books have dialled up the mystery content a notch, but this is rarely what drives the stories. The vital ingredients are protagonist Joe Rey—a PI with no discernible investigative skills—and my hometown of Paignton, England. Everything else is fluid.

The stories are intended as a mash-up of noir, mystery, pulp, trash and hardboiled fiction, and any labels I apply to them should be taken with a pinch of salt. I would love to write a genuinely cryptic mystery one day, but as I don’t actually read many mysteries this will be a tough undertaking. I mostly read short, violent books and I mostly write short violent books. For better or for worse, I’m trying to break that habit and teach myself how to write a proper mystery.

Colman Keane, a prolific book reviewer at Col's Criminal Library, once asked if there’s one decent person in Paignton. Is there?

There are thousands—tens of thousands—I just choose not to write about them!

Situated on the southwest coast about 200 miles from London, nearly fifty thousand people live in Paignton. Together with the neighbouring towns of Torquay and Brixham, Paignton forms the borough of Torbay, which was created back in 1998. Torbay—often referred to as the ‘English Riviera’—relies heavily on the tourist industry during the summer months, and has an unsettling ‘ghost town’ quality during the winter.

In 2017 Torbay was identified as one of the coastal communities with the worst levels of economic and social deprivation in the UK, as well as being ranked as the local authority with the ninth lowest average wage in the entire country. In 2017 the synthetic drug Spice arrived in Torquay, and the situation degenerated so quickly and hideously that the mini-epidemic piqued the interest of the national media.

Unsurprisingly, Joe Rey doesn’t spend much time on the beach or in family-friendly pubs; he trawls derelict industrial estates, decrepit caravan parks, halfway houses, welfare hotels, crack-dens and pubs. Lots of pubs. Grim, distrustful places where the sun never shines. Establishments which survived the recession with a cockroach-like tenacity, where dark secrets continue to lurk!

Sure, there are innocents who get corrupted or violated, prompting Rey's involvement—but I think it's fair to say that even the bit-part players are off-kilter or slightly warped. The way I look at it: these stories are highly stylised to begin with, so the supporting characters need to match their surroundings.

If people want social realist thrillers that offer an insight into the human condition, there are plenty of writers who do that kind of thing better than I ever could.

Some of the villains who cropped up in Meat Bubbles and Repetition Kills You were pretty extreme—cartoonish in many ways. Future antagonists will be more grounded—and probably more terrifying as a result. Frankly, the decent people don't stand a chance.

Crime and western writer Bill Baber recently called your stuff trashy in the most complimentary way. So, what kind of person hires Joe Rey?

I’m constantly striving to fuse my love of B-movies and pulp paperbacks with my literary sensibilities, so I really appreciated Bill’s comment.

If you are desperate enough to hire Rey, things have already gone from bad to worse, and the chance of a happy ending is highly unlikely. His client list will improve in future books, but his shit-kicking approach won’t.

He’s popular with underworld figures who admire his discretion and willingness to get his hands dirty. Rey isn’t fussy about who pays his fee, but he has an oblique moral code, which often causes him problems further down the line. Investigative work is something he stumbled into, rather than a career he chose, but it’s a path which allows him to work through some of his complicated family issues as the series unfolds.

As he admits in the story ‘The Repulsion Box’ (included in Meat Bubbles & Other Stories): “There are a number of things that I wouldn’t do for money—I just haven’t fully established what they are yet.”

Do you hang around dodgy pubs with a notepad and take notes under the table?

Part of my new book sees Rey plunge into the seedy underbelly of Paignton’s light entertainment community—alcoholic drag queens, shifty nightclub impresarios, lounge singers, soiled magicians … that’s a nice change of pace. Believe me, you don’t have to look hard to find a demented lounge singer in this town!

Unfortunately, the rumours are true: I do hang around in a dodgy pub whenever I get the chance—the Paignton Death Crawl is a favoured pastime—but I never take a notepad. Any magic moments have to run the gauntlet of my booze-addled memory before making it onto paper. Actually, as well as being a savage thriller, Boneyard Dogs is also a tribute to the pubs that time forgot: boarded-up boozers and derelict drinking holes. I always try to tweak the names of the locations that figure heavily in my stories—to protect the innocent—but the opportunity to dust down a few old favourites as key settings was too good to pass up.

What draws you to stories of sexual deviants, violent criminals, and sociopaths?

In a nutshell, crime fiction needs criminals, and the world can be an ugly place. I channel the worst of the worst into my stories as I like the stakes to be sufficiently high. Small, shitty crimes don’t blow narratives wide open and make readers uncomfortable. The nastier the antagonist, the more fun I can have with the story.

In the Paignton Noir stories Rey provides a moral compass, of sorts, but I like the idea of having a protagonist whose personal code would see him line up alongside the bad guys in most books.

After the rogue’s gallery of grotesques in Meat Bubbles and Repetition Kills You, I’m making a concerted effort to introduce more regular characters into the narratives, starting with Naomi—the journalist in Spine Farm. To be honest, I probably have more in common with a sexy, ambitious journalist than I do with a violently dispossessed private investigator.

What do you write on? Computer? Pen? Crime author and long-time Flash Fiction Offensive contributor Beau Johnson wrote much of his book The Big Machine Eats one-handed on an iPhone after breaking his collar bone. I love writing on the phone so I can lay on my back and be fed grapes at the same time. What’s your favourite tool?

I write on my laptop. Probably three nights a week. Because I’m desk-bound at work, I generally write on the sofa. I used to write almost every night—scenes, chapters, whatever flowed—and try to figure out how to slot it all together afterwards. Nowadays, I’m a bit more focused, and like to know what I’m going to be working on before I start writing. I have less time and energy to waste on aimless writing nowadays, so whenever I knuckle down I like to make it count.

Even so, my approach to writing is rarely linear. I write a lot of notes during the day: random scenes, excerpts of dialogue, character descriptions …. It’s especially satisfying when I write a whole short story in one quick burst, but most of my stuff is stitched together from loose scenes, offcuts and narrative scraps. One day I’d like to write a book in a conventional start-to-finish manner.

What’s next?

2019 should also be a good year for fans of my queasy brand of noir. Boneyard Dogs—the official sequel to Meat Bubbles & Other Stories—will be published by Close To The Bone on 26 July. Joe Rey often warns his clients that if he can’t find who they’re looking for within seven days they’re probably dead. This book unfolds over the course of seven increasingly brutal days, as Rey looks for the missing teenage daughter of a demented local lounge singer.

At the end of the year All Due Respect will publish The Good Book, an interlinked short story collection set against the backdrop of a chaotic 1980s US wrestling promotion called the Testament Wrestling Alliance. Unhinged wrestling promoter Frank ‘Fingerfuck’ Flanagan rules his company with an iron fist, and his personal road to hell is paved with dead wrestlers.

Meanwhile, as Torbay’s second most famous crime writer, I think it is probably time to unveil my fiendish Agatha Christie tribute, in which Rey gets to act like a Poundland Poirot!

Tom, you’ve been an excellent guest. Any final words?

Thanks for having me, Jason and Flash Fiction Offensive – it’s been a real pleasure. As for final words? I would like to urge readers of this site to keep supporting small presses, as that’s where the gold is. Take a chance on a book with an arresting title, or a striking cover—you may just discover your new favourite crime writer.

*A note from the Editors: Remember, REPETITION KILLS YOU! And at the time of this writing, Amazon Prime members can grab Tom's first story collection SKULL MEAT free.

Jason Beech lives in New Jersey, but it’s Sheffield, England, which forged him. He writes crime fiction, sometimes horror and supernatural, and loves a bit of Ellroy, Leonard, Banks, Sansom, Brazill, Nixon, Pluck, Hinkson, and other good stuff. You can find his work at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and other digital retailers. And you can visit him on Facebook (where he manages Messy Business), as well as on his blog.