Thomas Kyd

Created by Timothy Harris
Pseudonym of Timothy Hyde Harris
(1946–)

“You want to solve a crime, Granville? Why don’t you go arrest your tailor?”
— Kyd can crack wise with the best of ’em.

THOMAS KYD is a Los Angeles P.I. of “high principles and low assets” who appeared in two very good private eye novels in the seventies

When we first meet him, in the aptly titled Kyd for Hire (1978), he’s a haunted Vietnam vet and young widower, a fallen liberal, and a guy just trying to hold on, summing it all up in a fashion that may seem familiar to anyone who’s ever read Chandler’s The Long Goodbye:

“I’m thirty-three years old. My wife is dead and I have a private business that brings in enough to keep me in clean underwear. I live alone. I’m not tough but I’ll kill a man if he tries to act like an animal to me, which is to say, if he tries to kill me. If I’m suspicious, I’m not suspicious enough, because people are always surprising me. I’ve seen little kids in Vietnam, seven- and eight-year olds, attack and kill old people for their clothes, so they could sell them. I’ve worked on a case where a man who’d lived fifty-three years with the same woman blew her brains out because he was tired of the way she fried eggs. I live alone because I want to and I drink because I’m weak and because I like to feel good enough though I’m not very good. And one way I make up for that is by being careful about my work, by forcing myself to question things that seem fine, or respectable, or lovely, like you. But the main thing is that I don’t make speeches. Ever.”

At one point the author, who never made any secret of his ambitions to follow in Chandler’s footsteps, was being bandied about in the same breath as contemporaries like Greenleaf and Estleman. And damn if he didn’t show plenty of promise. His second novel, Goodnight and Good-bye (1979), is especially recommended.

Although I must admit that when I first picked up Kyd for Hire off a paperback rack, it wasn’t any literary quality that attracted me — it was the cover. I just loved it– the world-weary, who-gives-a-fuck-look on the detective, the hell-with-it smoke dangling from his mouth, the bottle of hooch, the big nasty city behind him–it all just spoke to me. I’m not sure, but it might have been the first P.I. novel I ever purchased with my own money.

* * * * *

Timothy Hyde Harris was born in Los Angeles, and attended schools in Africa, Europe and New York. His later education was at Charterhouse and Peterhouse College, Cambridge. Besides the two Kyd novels, he wrote another crime novel, Heat Wave, based on a screenplay by Herschel Weingrod, which is a pretty decent P.I. story itself, considering it doesn’t really have a P.I. in it,  about a Los Angeles photographer and a hooker who find themselves on the wrong side of the law when a city big shot gets murdered. Disappointed with sales, Harris began looking for more lucrative work.

He wrote novelizations of films such as Steelyard Blues and American Gigalo, and  eventually began writing screenplays himself with Weingrod, who became a screenwriting collaborator with Harris. Their joint efforts produced Cheaper To Keep Her, a P.I. flick starring Mac Davis as Bill Dekker; Trading Places, the 1983 Eddie Murphy-Dan Ackrod comedy; Pure Luck, a 1991 American remake (starring Martin Short and Danny Glover) of a French screwball farce that starred Gerard Depardieu as a Parisian P.I., and Street of Dreams, a 1988 TV movie based on the two Kyd novels, starring Ben Masters as the battered gumshoe.

Harris’ has since forged a successful career as a producer and screenwriter, involved with a number of films, including  Space Jam (1996), Kindergarten Cop (1990), My Stepmother Is an Alien (1988), Twins (1988), Brewster’s Millions (1985), Falling Down (1993) and Astro Boy (2009).

And then, miracle of miracles, in 2004, twenty-five years after Goodnight and Goodbye, Thomas Kyd made his return in Unfaithful Servant. He’s now a recovering alcoholic, but he’s still the same old Kyd.

THE EVIDENCE

  • “I was tired and old and the world looked like it should have been scrapped the day Cain sent Abel to the icehouse …”
    — Kyd for Hire
  • “The first time I saw Laura Cassidy it was four in the morning and she was trying to drive a fire-engine red Volkswagen out of the underground garage of a Harper Avenue apartment building. She nearly sideswiped the stone entrance, knocked over a garbage can at the end of the driveway, and turned right up the hill toward Sunset Boulevard. What held me rooted to the pavement wasn’t her driving; it was the man spread-eagled on the hood of her car.”
    the opening to Goodnight and Goodbye

UNDER OATH

  • “At long last, someone has…hit the bull’s-eye dead center…Tim Harris has succeeded in bringing Chandler’s vision to bear upon a more frightening time than even Marlowe may have been able to stomach.”
    — New West Magazine
  • “No one since Chandler has captured the excess that is L.A. as well as Harris.”
    — Robert A. Baker & Michael T. Nietzel, from Private Eyes; One Hundred and One Knights, A Survey of American Detective Fiction 1922-1984
  • “Tim Harris burns down the fences separating genre lit from the serious stuff. His great creation, Thomas Kyd…makes a welcome return in this superb book that sets a fresh standard for the field. Tim Harris is writing better than ever.”
    — Jay Cocks

NOVELS

COLLECTIONS

  • The Thomas Kyd Casebook (2018) | Kindle it!
    Collects all three Thomas Kyd novels, plus Heat Wave which they’re inexplicably (and rather dishonestly) trying to pass off as a Thomas Kyd novel.

TELEVISION

  • STREET OF DREAMS
    (1988, Phoenix Entertainment Group)
    94 minutes
    Based on the novels Kyd For Hire and Goodnight and Goodbye by Timothy Harris
    Teleplay by Bill Stratton
    Directed by William A. Graham
    Produced by Richard Ravin
    Co-executive producers: Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod
    Executive producer: Gerald W. Abrams
    Starring Ben Masters as THOMAS KYD
    Also starring Morgan Fairchild, Diane Salinger, Michael Cavanaugh, Alan Autry, Gerald Hiken, Wendell Wellman, Julie Philips, Danny Goldman, John Putch, Mike Moroff, Richard Green, David Marciano, John Hillerman

RELATED LINKS

  • The Comeback Kyd
    Tom Nolan interviews Harris for January Magazine on the occasion of the release of Unfaithful Servant.
  • The Please-Come-Back Kids
    The Rap Sheet’s List of Authors Who Left Them Wanting More (October 2006)
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

One thought on “Thomas Kyd

  1. The TV movie Street of Dreams was pretty cool but the TV execs made one goof. It premiered on Friday October 7′ 1988, which was the same day Bouchercon started in San Diego, CA so they missed a number of mystery fans.

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