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"A PRODUCTIVE SEPARATION" : AN INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM RANDOLPH PACKARD HEARSE'S TIM BRYANT

After a hiatus, Tim Bryant returned to his Fort Worth private eye Alvis "Dutch" Curridge in William

Randolph Packard Hearse. Tim owns and operates The Bosslight bookstore in Nacogdoches Texas where you can get signed copies of his books as well as fellow resident Joe Lansdale. We talked to Tim about his book and return to the character.


HARD WORD: This is the longest you've been away from Dutch to write other books. Did it have any effect on the writing of William Randolph Packard Hearse?


TIM BRYANT: I think it was a productive separation, for both of us. Having a few years off made it fresh again, and, while I won’t say the writing was effortless, it did all go fairly quickly and smoothly, as these things go. Five books in, I felt like I knew Dutch almost as well as I knew myself. Still, I thought there was more for me to discover about him. With Dutch, he’s always his own greatest mystery, and that continues into the new book.


HW: What does making Dutch a gypsy cab driver allow you to do?


TB: At first, it seemed like maybe something he wouldn’t normally do, and that’s actually why I did it. I wanted him to go in a direction that would put him in new light, maybe rub up against some interesting people. He buys the hearse on a whim (which is not unusual), and so it sets him off on a whole new adventure. In a lot of ways, this book felt like book one of a whole new series, like a new beginning. And the cab driving angle was just a part of that.


HW: Dutch draws a list of suspects from a checked-out library book. The interviews with them reminded me of the band members he interrogates in Spirit Trap. How do you see bibliophiles like us are different from normal folks?


TB: I didn’t plan for it to echo Spirit Trap, but that didn’t escape my notice. Of course, a big part of PI work is tracking down suspects and hearing their stories. That’s the nature of the job. As far as it being bibliophiles, well, that just seemed rich for mining. We already know that Dutch is a bibliophile, so it gives him a personal connection. We can see that in the way he judges each character by the books on their shelf. I think most bibliophiles are guilty of doing that. And, even with a cast of them, they’re as different from each other as one book is from the next. No two exactly alike.


4. You develop a riff between Dutch and his sidekick Slant Face, Did you learn anything about that relationship by doing that?


TB: In general, I’ve just learned that real life has some hard truths. No relationship is always easy, and sometimes friendships wear out their welcome and come to a messy end. In my real life, I’ve been betrayed by friends. I think most of us have. So, in taking Dutch and Slant Face through that, maybe Dutch learns a little about what’s really important to him.

HW:. What drew you to the setting of Fort Worth in The Fifties?


TB:Fort Worth in the 1950s was the end of a whole other way of life. The city is known as being “where the west begins,” but, in the 1950s, a lot of those things were actually coming to an end. When it was the wild west, that brought in a pretty rowdy crowd, which later brought in the Mob. By 1955, the body of gangster Tincy Eggleston had been discovered at the bottom of a well. Places like Hell's Half Acre were just memories. So Dutch is watching, not his occupation but his general way of life, become obsolete. Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys are making way for Elvis Presley. It all affects the way he thinks and even what he does, but, more generally, it’s a very colorful background to what he’s doing.


HW: What do you think differentiates Dutch from other PIs in fiction?


TB Dutch, five books into the series, is a fully dimensional guy. We know him, probably better than he knows himself. And the specificity of his character is what sets him apart from any other PI. You can say he’s the one who loves blues and jazz music. He’s the one who’s in love with Ruthie and won’t admit it to himself, much less tell her. He’s the one who’s still mourning the loss of his little sister to childhood polio-encephalitis. That he shot his toe off in a drunken game of Russian Roulette. That he’s got a bad left ear. He’s all of these things and much, much more, and like his readers, he’s always on the way to becoming the totality of himself.

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