Gritty Low-Life’s Are Fine By Me: On Reading Tom Leins’s Boneyard Dogs

Just when you think you have seen it all, Paignton coughs up another harrowing has-been to haunt you.

—PI Joe Rey, Boneyard Dogs

When it comes down to it I’ve always felt a deep-seated rapport with hell.  I’ve spent the last thirty years pretending to be something I’m not: an intellectual, a philosopher. Right, what a crock. Maybe it’s old age catching up with me, or just the truth hounding me like some old junkyard dog outta hell. Either way I’ve come to the conclusion I’m just a displaced country boy whose life’s reckonings have more to do with the mean streets than main street, a world pulped by the low-life’s and losers, working class victims of a world that has passed us by and left us on the junk heap of time’s ravages.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always had a hard cold heart for pulp fiction, the nitty-gritty down and dirty  kind that digs straight down to the bone, opens up wounds in the soul so wide it feeds on your dark stained life without a blink, cutting to the marrow for the meat that makes even a sin eater’s life look like a saint in comparison. Hell, I remember sneaking some of my dad’s old magazines like True Stories, True Detective, and so many others; and, then came the paperback’s of Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, Mickey Spillane, Gil Brewer, Bill McGivern, Lionel White; not to leave out all those infamous PI’s Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer, Paul Pine, and Mike Hammer, etc. But I think one of my favorites was always Charles Williford’s low-life crime stories, and Jim Thompsons psychopathic deputies.

Something of these pulp writers worlds rubbed off on me early on: the paranoia, the psychopathy of our country with all its murderous violence and charm. It was as if the life presented down at the my local church or in our high literature enclaves of the New Yorker were just a white-washed job, a sweet lie against the truth of our cross-stained sinful lives lived as they were in the dark back streets of small town America rather than in the big city worlds of some dreamland U.S.A.. These books taught me that there is a secret history of American that is for the most part swept under the carpet of decency and moral turpitude, a realm of mayhem and madness where creepy-crawly murderous rage and violence haunt our roadways. A place of nightmare and cold stone killers, a dark world of pain and sorrow where real peoples lives bend and twist under the pressure of lives gone wrong under the bitter malaise of our country’s fall into economic hell.

Even now that world is still with us, and there are some powerful writers carrying on that grand tradition of close to the bone, where dark and gritty tales of pulped lives still wander the lonely wastelands of our nightmare cities and villages. American hasn’t been that nice to a lot of her children, hasn’t allowed them to share in that promised land of riches and fame, but has instead dropped us into those black holes of sin where we live out our lives in the gutter full of alcohol, drugs, and false memories; victims not of society but of a despair so murderous in intent that violence becomes the only form of redemption through sin one has left. And, yet, in the pages of these old thumbed pulp noirs we manage to find if not salvation then at least the dark grit that speaks to us of others like ourselves who have fallen into bad times, been drawn down into the heart of darkness where fear and terror are but the mirrored lens of those night lands we inhabit day by day.

Tom Leins – Boneyard Dogs

One such writer is Tom Leins who’s learned a trick or two about this dark seedy world, created a realm by the sea where the cold cruel mean streets carve bloody inroads into our hearts with his pungent mix of sin and death. Tom’s Paignton noir series with the down and dirty PI Joe Rey spawns the kind of dark grit that reweaves the codes of those old pulp masters into strange new twists and turns, breaking with the clichés and offering us a vision of those low-life scumbags and criminals that live in the inner circles of our own hellish landscapes. Losers, drifters, con-men, drunks, druggies, all the down and out part-souled creatures that inhabit the back alleys of our minds seem to come out of the woodworks and dives in the city of Paignton.

This is a world where pessimism and cynicism fall short, a violent backwater of the imagination where primal fear and terror haunt the broken realities of some forgotten realm. Tom’s captured this sense of depressive realism and extreme despair of these fragmented souls living on the edge of suicide and mayhem. A realm where the puppet’s have forgotten they have strings, and the puppet master’s churn out psychomachia’s  to entertain the godless sadomasochists of some hidden order of corruption.

Walking through Paignton our PI describes the hellish world: “The town centre seems to be smothered under a sodium streetlight haze. Shaven-headed men congregate in pub doorways, drinking lager. Despite the icy weather, some are topless, and their big stomachs hang over their belts. Feverish eyes follow me through town, towards Winner Street.”1 (p. 16).

Typical of those older pulp PI’s our protagonist is not unknown to violence on occasion, who wouldn’t be living in hell’s half-acre? Working for clientele like Malcolm Chang a local kingpin mushed up with all the usual stench of such backroom escapades our PI takes on the case of an EX-lounge-lizard, whose daughter has gone missing. A case that will lead us into the seamy world of body traffickers where children become the scrip in a sex-world as old as human sin itself. Hounded by the local cops, wanted in connection to murder, our edgy PI wanders the misery prone streets seeking out the stories of the young woman’s disappearance learning more than he wanted to know. One remembers all those child trafficking tales of Andrew Vachss. Leins has taken such learning and brought it down into his own dark parables with the sorcery of a well seasoned professional whose research into those black corners of the mind tempt us to know things we should leave in the unknown, and yet give us back again a certain type of knowledge that wounds us with the night visions of nightmare and hell’s flowers.

This is not Rey’s first escapade, and Tom Leins has filled out this character in previous haunts: Skull Meat, Snuff Racket, and Meat Bubbles and other stories. Each with its own distinctive story line and pulped darkness. Light entertainment? Only if you like to drink Kool-Aid arsenic for breakfast. Enjoy these dark twisted tales from the hellish sea-side town of Paignton. And, tell them Hickman sent you… maybe they’ll even bless you with a slug or two to the head just for chuckles.

You can find out more about Tom Leins,

Personal Website: Things To Do IN Devon When Your Dead


Published by Cold2TheBones:

  1. Leins, Tom. Boneyard Dogs: A Paignton Noir Mystery. Close To The Bone (July 26, 2019)

Donald Ray Pollock: A Review of Knockenstiff

thnlsypg92In my research of late into Country noir I came across the name Donald Ray Pollock. Born in 1954 and raised in Knockemstiff, Ohio, Pollock has lived his entire adult life in Chillicothe, Ohio, where he worked at the Mead Paper Mill as a laborer and truck driver until age 50, when he enrolled in the English program at Ohio State University. While there, Doubleday published his debut short story collection, Knockemstiff, and the New York Times regularly posted his election dispatches from southern Ohio throughout the 2008 campaign. The Devil All the Time, his first novel, was published in 2011. His work has appeared in various literary journals, including Epoch, Sou’wester, Granta, Third Coast, River Styx, The Journal, Boulevard, Tin House, and PEN America. His newest book, a novel called The Heavenly Table, was published by Doubleday on July 12th, 2016.1 Find him on his website:

Author of three works Knockemstiff, The Devil All the Time, and The Heavenly Table 9780767928304he seems to fall into that lineage of which draws from the likes of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Harry Crews, William Gay and Daniel Woodrell, among others; and, yet, his raw power and nihilistic vision seems undaunted in its ferocious and daemonic power and depths. I just finished his collection of short stories Knockemstiff, which awakened in me that sense of the grotesque and satiric strain of those comic fatalists of horror and noir that blend that dark realism of the mean streets with the unique flavor of region and place. One knows this is caricature, not in the sense of defamation, but in the sense that each story brings out the anamorphic distortion that is slowly clarified by many readings and rereading’s. These are characters that live in that alternate realm of the Real, the daemons of certain forces that insert their voices and their lives into that dark loam of life that inhabits the cracks and gaps of our lives. The people that emerge out of the black abyss of Pollack’s daemonic America, this slice of life world of the lost, the forgotten, the poverty stricken, the lonely and lame, the creatures of an earthly hell who have never known there might be something else out there, because for them there is no there is. These are the creatures of nightmare rather than life, the ones who never attained the human, but for whatever reason came out of the wilds to remain feral and raw, violent and full of rage; and, yet, at time full of that dark longing for something, something they know must be there, something maybe just in the next love bout, death choke, dream world of escape that they just don’t see possible and feel they must be guilty of some dark stain and undeserving of such realms beyond. Then again, most of them don’t believe there is a beyond, but dip from that place of the abyss within that harbors no transcension but plenty of the raging beast of the feral mind unleashed and ready to devour the world.

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