Latest Flash

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.