- Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery
One of the most under-rated novels of 2016 was Tim Bryant’s Old Mother Curridge, the fourth book in the story of Alvin “Dutch” Curridge, a private eye, operating in postwar Fort Worth. This time he has two mysteries to solve – the death of an Elvis fan at one of his first concerts, and another case opened up by the death of his father that unlocks several family secrets for him. We got in touch with Tim to talk about the book, his protagonist, and influences.
MysteryPeople Scott: In Old Mother Curridge, Dutch seemed a little harder than in the first book. Do you think he has changed some?
Tim Bryant: Sure. I think, by now, we’ve seen Dutch get a little more disillusioned with his life, and even with Fort Worth. There’s a sense of being let down by the things he’s depended on, and maybe the people too. That’s probably why he’s questioning things, questioning himself even. He’s looking beyond the city limits, and beyond his personal limits too, for something he can believe, something he can hang onto.
This time, much of the mystery is personal, and Dutch doesn’t do personal very well.
MPS: What made you decide to delve into Dutch’s family?
TB: It’s been there all along, and I knew I would get to it in time. I always tried to keep it in mind, through all of the books, that Dutch himself is the real mystery. And we’ve seen the shadows of his mother and father, and his younger sister too, from the very beginning. They sometimes loom large. But he’s always seen them in fairly simple terms until now, when he’s forced to see them through different eyes.
I think this is the first book where I would recommend someone read at least one and maybe more of the others first, so you get a good sense of those characters. A lot of what happens in Old Mother Curridge has roots in the other books. Chickens there that come home to roost here.
“I always tried to keep it in mind, through all of the books, that Dutch himself is the real mystery. And we’ve seen the shadows of his mother and father, and his younger sister too, from the very beginning.”
TB: One of his cases brushes up against the Elvis phenomenon that reflects a lot of the themes of the novel. Was that a part of the plan when you decided to use it, or did it simply organically connect with the rest of the story?
TB: We’ve finally hit 1956, which was Ground Zero for the Elvis phenomenon. I knew, with music as a constant background in Dutch’s life, I had to make some reference to it. Even if I knew he was unlikely to be a fan, he would certainly make note of it. Elvis’ ascension to the top was played out in Fort Worth in 1956. He really did begin the year opening a show for Hank Snow (whom Dutch is a fan of) at the North Side Coliseum. By the time the year was over, he’d played the Milton Berle Show, Steve Allen, and Ed Sullivan, come back to Fort Worth as a major headline act and would never open for anyone again in his life.
The specific Elvis Presley storyline at play in Old Mother Curridge is also based in truth. I saw an article about it a couple years ago and just made a mental note of it. Things like it were taking place in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, even if they thankfully didn’t play out the same way.
Tying it in with the bigger storyline was either subconscious or a bit of writing magic. I don’t which. I don’t sit down and plan things like that, but when you set things up right, and you put them in the right context, in the right environment, they tend to start working together in ways that you may not even understand at first. I could see it at a certain point, but it’s mysterious even to me. I’d like to keep it that way.
MPS: With themes of family and past sins, I couldn’t help but notice some echoes of one of your favorite writers, Ross Macdonald. Is there anything from his work you’d like to apply to yours?
TB: Lew Archer is always somewhere in there with Dutch. I read all of Hammett and Chandler and Jim Thompson— who is Dutch’s favorite writer— but I think I learned more from Macdonald than all the others put together, especially his later novels. What I first liked about Macdonald was, he was really the first to hone in on the psychological workings of his characters. It allowed readers to pick up on things that characters didn’t always recognize in themselves, and I did pinch that from him.
Old Mother Curridge has a more direct, obvious Macdonald influence. Specifically, disconnected families and families with dark pasts and secrets that have come back to haunt the present. Ross Macdonald seemed to circle back to that time and time again. I didn’t consciously set out to follow his example when I began writing this novel, believe it or not, but I didn’t run from it when I recognized it either. I’m quite happy if people see it as a sort of homage to Ross Macdonald.
“When I finished this book, I noticed that it didn’t seem as humorous as the others to me. It seemed the most desperate, darkest of them all. But I think Dutch does dark particularly well. His humor, when it’s there, comes from a dark place.”
MPS: As a writer, what makes Dutch a character worth coming back to?
TB: Going back to your first question, I think it’s because Dutch does change over the course of the four books. You see him screw up and lose important things, and he doesn’t always get closure. So you get to see how he lives with that tension. What kind of adjustments he makes. The way he lives and learns.
When I finished this book, I noticed that it didn’t seem as humorous as the others to me. It seemed the most desperate, darkest of them all. But I think Dutch does dark particularly well. His humor, when it’s there, comes from a dark place.
You can find copies of Old Mother Curridge on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.