MysteryPeople Q&A with Tim Bryant

  • 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

MysteryPeople Q&A with Ed Lin

  •  Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

I first encountered Ed Lin’s delicious Taipei night market mysteries when I was given the opportunity to interview him at the Texas Book Festival in 2014. His second in the series, Incensedcame out last October, and is just as delicious and aware as Lin’s first in the series, Ghost Month. Incensed follows Lin’s Joy-Division-loving hero, Jing-nan, as he attempts to shepherd Mei-ling, his gangster uncle’s wayward teenage daughter, safely through the city. Ed was kind enough to answer a few questions I had about the book, the series, and Taiwanese politics. 

Molly Odintz: Your latest novel tackles some hot topics in Taiwanese politics. Could an author living in Taiwan have written about GLBT rights in Taipei with the same honesty and support you bring to the LGBTQ characters in the novel? And how about that Trump call?

Ed Lin: Taiwan doesn’t really have censorship issues–anymore! Back in the days of martial law (1947-1987) news and other media were heavily censored. A popular story is that the film “The Sound of Music” was edited down to one hour to prevent theatergoers from deriving inspiration in escaping a repressive regime! I think an author in Taiwan could have written this book, surely better than me! As it is, Taiwan is the most LGBTQ-friendly country in East Asia. Most of the public supports same-sex marriage, but there are these fringe “religious” groups that vehemently oppose it. I was reading about this one idiot at an anti-same-sex marriage rally who showed up dressed head-to-toe in a Nazi uniform. He claimed that the Nazis were against gay marriage, so he supported Nazis.

I have a lot of feelings around the Trump call with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen. I support a higher profile for Taiwan in international affairs. Taiwan already punches above its weight economically, but its culture and history should be more recognized, perhaps as much as other island nations such as Jamaica and Ireland–both of which have populations much smaller than Taiwan. On the other hand, while many China-watchers have found that country to be opaque about its thoughts and actions, it is clear that any perceived interference with Taiwan will result in a war. I have no doubt that China is willing to sacrifice international goodwill and lives to prevent the formal independence of Taiwan. I actually dream of an independent China, a country free from dogma of the past. After all, isn’t China being selective of what past pieces of land constitute the Chinese nation? Korea and Vietnam were parts of past Chinese dynasties and for longer than Taiwan was, but there’s no call for them to return to the “motherland.” Trump’s call to Tsai wasn’t reckless in itself, but he publicizing of it has been. It should have been kept private with an eye to future support, perhaps a free-trade agreement?

“In my Taiwan series, I’m portraying crime as a societal outgrowth. Only crimes that a society deems intolerable are illegal, after all.”

MO: I loved the dynamic between Jing-nan and Mei-ling – it felt like Paper Moon meets Born Yesterday. What was your inspiration for the interactions between the two? 

EL: When I was a kid, a few of my younger cousins moved to the U.S. and I sorta helped them get acclimated. They’d be all passive and yielding at first but we’d always reach a point where they would push back and become assertive. Jerky, even! I tapped into that for their relationship.

MO:  Incensed is, and isn’t, a crime novel – it does contain gangsters, guns, and murder, but it’s just as much about Taiwanese politics and Taipei nightlife. How did you balance the topics you wanted to explore with the crime genre?

EL: I’m trying to challenge the paradigm of what a crime novel is. I am really against the good-vs-evil dynamic. I feel like everyday people are capable of monstrous acts under certain circumstances and that we all have positive and negative elements to our personalities. I think about the taijitu, the so called “yin-yang” circle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taijitu#/media/File:Yin_yang.svg). In places where the white or black is still dominant, there are still small circles of the opposite element.

In my Taiwan series, I’m portraying crime as a societal outgrowth. Only crimes that a society deems intolerable are illegal, after all. I saw a documentary on PBS that profoundly affected me. A single mother working two jobs lost them both and fell behind on her mortgage payments. The bank repossessed her house and held a bankruptcy auction. Someone bought her house for $20,000. They got a bargain. The bank got its tax writeoff. The single mom had sank $30,0000 into that house over the years and she and her kids ended up in a homeless shelter. That’s a crime but perfectly legal. I think about that a lot, the individuals who suffer from what society accepts and tolerates.

In Incensed, I’m likening homophobia, and immigration to a lesser degree, to that line dividing acceptable and tolerable. There are “good” and “bad” people on both sides. Jing-nan himself finds himself to be more homophobic than he likes to admit, hence the book’s epigraph! How can he call out Big Eye’s prejudices when he himself embodies some of them?

MO: The food in Incensed seems just as delicious as the food in Ghost Month, yet I hear rumors that you’re a vegetarian! What kind of gourmet research goes into writing these novels?

EL: Rumors that I’m a vegetarian are nothing but lies! Well, I will shamefully admit that I am allergic to all seafood–shellfish, fish and crustaceans. Surprisingly, there is still quite a bit of eating exploration that I can do, and I do for the books. I do have to ask my wife to get something like an oyster omelette and grill her immediately in mid-bite what it tastes like and how it makes her feel. There’s always something new at the night markets in Taiwan when I visit and at the joints in Flushing, Queens, and southern California (both Taiwanese American strongholds). Lately, more places in Manhattan’s Chinatown have been flying the Taiwan culinary menu–there’s even a biandan restaurant there now! Biandan, derived from the Japanese bento, are the box lunches originally served on Taiwan’s railways but have exploded in popularity as a format on their own. When I’m in Taiwan, I’m amazed by the rush of people buying lunches at the rail stations who aren’t even going to ride the trains.

“Everyday life in Taipei can be can be ordinary. Everybody overworks, even the criminals. People know what legitimate businesses are owned by criminal organizations and it’s not a big deal.”

MO: What are you working on next? Will there be a third book with Jing-nan?

EL: There will be an infinite number of books with Jing-nan, unless he is killed. The third book continues to tackle issues in contemporary Taiwan. Have you also noticed that each book thus far is pegged to a holiday in Taiwan? Ghost Month was focused on Ghost Month. Incensed, on the Mid-Autumn Festival. I’m looking at the Double Ninth holiday, which is a day to appreciate senior citizens (they get government payments that day) and also a very high “yang” day (9 is the highest odd single number, after all), so one must indulge in “yin” activities (climbing mountains, drinking chrysanthemum tea) to offset it.

MO: Your characters have excellent taste in music – what’s your soundtrack when you’re writing? Do you listen to as much Joy Division as Jing-nan? 

EL: Joy Division is his favorite band. Mine is probably Swervedriver, and there are still a number of other acts I’d put in front of Joy Division, as well, although I really like them. I’m a punk-rock kid who is grateful for being able to see one Husker Du concert! When I’m writing, it’s instrumental things (surf/drag music, instrumental jazz).

MO: There’s some blurring of the lines in Ghost Month and Incensed between gangsters, police, and community authorities. This sometimes works against your characters, but more often they exploit these blurred lines to escape perilous situations. How much does that dynamic reflect everyday Taipei reality?

EL: Everyday life in Taipei can be can be ordinary. Everybody overworks, even the criminals. People know what legitimate businesses are owned by criminal organizations and it’s not a big deal. I’ve met this guy who works at a cable station owned by a local boss who is very nice, buying the staff dinner when they stay late. On the other hand, there are certain boundaries and rules that are understood as well and anyone transgressing them can expect consequences. A few years ago (and there are video captures of this on YouTube) a policeman was beaten to death by a crowd of gangsters outside a nightclub. As I understand it, he was unhappy with his payout and he wanted more. The gang didn’t think the terms of the agreement were subject to change. I’ll say this about Taiwanese people. They absolutely do what they say they’re going to. A pact or promise, even if it isn’t in writing, is sacred, even if it straddles the line between “legal” and “illegal.”

You can find copies of Incensed on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Review: SHOT IN DETROIT by Patricia Abbott

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

9781940610825Patricia Abbott’s Shot In Detroit is a book that challenges the reader. Abbott takes on several uncomfortable topics, more interested in their human truth than couching them in a gentle tone. Set in 2011 in a Detroit still reeling from the financial crisis, Shot In Detroit is half murder mystery, half extremely dark comedy. She even comes close to confronting the reader with the very book in their hand.

Even the protagonist can be initially hard to accept for some. Violet Hart struggles from a few bar mitvahs and weddings as a freelance photographer. At 39, she feels the doors closing on her opportunity to be considered an artist. When her lover, Bill Fontanel, a black mortician, asks her to snap some photos of one of his deceased, she becomes obsessed with a gallery idea, pictures of young dead black men. She gets a gallery interested, working Bill to supply the subjects. When she hasn’t filled the number of subjects she needs, a story that was dark to begin with goes pitch black.

Abbott is less interested in making Valentine relate-able than in nailing her complexity. She realizes you need to know her toughness and self involvement as well as the artistic desperation that she captures spot on, that moves her into her colder actions. She creates an interesting reader-heroine relationship, tightening the reader’s bond with Valentine as she spirals deeper and deeper into an abyss of her own creation.

The story covers many hard issues race, class, death and how we deal with it, and art all tangle upon one another, leading toward the issue of appropriation. Valentine’s photo collection mirrors that of many crime fiction writers, often white, who use the lives and deaths of the disenfranchised, often of color, for their work. Abbott looks deeply into this matter, yet turns any true judgment to the reader.

Fans of the fifth season of The Wire or the cult classic Man Bites Dog should enjoy this modern take on the classic quandary of shooting violence on camera. Abbott judges the reader and her protagonist equally for their shared obsession with observing death, and carefully explores the easily-crossed border between documenting suffering and causing it. Shot In Detroit is a book worthy to read and discussed. Patricia Abbott is honest in both subject and emotion. It may be heavy lifting for some, but it is well worth the weight.

You can find copies of Shot in Detroit on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

I Could Fit Five Bodies in the Trunk of My Sedan: MysteryPeople Q&A with Patrick Millikin

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

The Highway Kind is a collection of short crime fiction, dealing with cars, driving, and the road. It features crime and general fiction and even a singer/songwriter. Authors include the likes of Joe Lansdale, Ace Atkins, and Michael Connelly. We talked to to the editor Patrick Millikan about cars and crime.

MysteryPeople Scott: How did the idea of The Highway Kind come about?

Patrick Millikan: My original thought was that it would be cool to have an anthology of crime stories in which each author chose a particular car and wrote a story about it. The cars would be prominently featured. I was surprised that there hadn’t been (at least to my knowledge) a collection like it. Over time the idea morphed into something, at least in my opinion, much more interesting. As I mention in the preface, when I commissioned the stories I left the guidelines pretty open – the pieces would simply be about “cars, driving and the road.” As the stories started to come in I was surprised and intrigued by how personal, almost confessional, many of them were.

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Crime Fiction Friday: “Kay Chart” by V. P. Chandler

MysteryPeople_cityscape_72 Introduced by Scott Montgomery

We’re happy to have an original story from Austin crime writer V. P. Chandler to share with y’all this week.  The tale below might be in the Western category of fiction, but its’ content is plenty murderous enough to be featured on Crime Fiction Friday. Chandler’s short story “Rota Fortunae” is included in the Austin Mystery Writers’ short story collection Murder on Wheels, which you can find on our shelves or via bookpeople.com


“Kay Chart” by V. P. Chandler

“Hurry up with them biscuits and gravy, old woman!”

Cooter laughs and wipes brown spit from the corner of his mouth. Damn if we wasn’t having fun. Things have been going our way since we left San Antone last week even though folks warned us not to venture so far west. Said the Comanche were still riled up after skirmishes with the Rangers.

But I got plans. Plans for me and Becky. And I can’t wait any longer to get money. When I heard she was engaged to that son of a bitch Whitney, it took the wind right outta me. So Cooter and me have been working our way west, raiding homesteads as we go. Since the Comanches have been hitting the farms, we thought we’d do some raiding of our own.

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A new book about the infamous yogurt shop murders

Attention, true crime aficionados, long-time Austinites, and cold case questioners everywhere: Beverly Lowry comes to BookPeople to speak and sign her new history of Austin’s infamous 1991 Yogurt Shop Murders, WHO KILLED THESE GIRLS, tonight, at 7 PM.

BookPeople's Blog

2016 is not only the year that true crime enters the mainstream with several documentary series and podcasts devoted to the subject, it is also an anniversary year for more than one of Austin’s own community-shattering hometown murders. August 1st represented the 50th anniversary of the Charles Whitman UT sniper spree, and on August 28th we hosted Monte Akers, Nathan Akers, and Roger Friedman, authors of The Tower Sniper: The Terror of America’s First Active Shooter on Campus9780307594112.

December 6th represents the 25th anniversary of the Yogurt Shop murders and on Tuesday, October 18th, we will welcome Beverly Lowry to talk about her new book Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders.

Examining this unsolved murder, Lowry goes into detail about what we know versus what we thought we knew. The book’s title and cover design reflect the famous billboards featuring black and white school…

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Crime Fiction Friday: “A Tricky Situation” by Lisa Gray

 

MysteryPeople_cityscape_72

  • Selected and Introduced by Scott Montgomery

Thank you Shotgun Honey for introducing us to another fantastic new author. Lisa Gray is a talented author from across the pond. We’ve decided to link to her story “A Tricky Situation” for this week’s Crime Fiction Friday – it has a well crafted opening sentence, keeps you hooked, and shows you Gray can deliver more than one twist in flash fiction. Here’s hoping we this will be far from the last time we read her.


“A Tricky Situation” by Lisa Gray

“Carol Turner did not know she was claustrophobic until the day she found herself bound at the wrists and ankles, and locked in a box.

Her prison was a cheap, wooden structure that fit snugly around her body. Stretching her bare foot as far as the restraints allowed, her big toe nudged plywood, and rough wood grazed her bare arms on either side…”

Read the rest of the story.