In a Private Detective’s Overcoat

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch
Kinky Friedman

I told you I’ve been wasting my time.

What I didn’t tell you was that some wastes of time are less productive than others. And even though the title pictured nearby was bedtime reading, I can’t help feeling I fruitlessly spent a couple of hours of my life that I’m never going to get back.

A reasonable person, say a browser in a bookstore, might look at the cover design the publisher chose to go to market with and keep moving. I, however, must deal with the albatross of nostalgia and so am prone to strolling up literary (I use the term loosely) alleys only to discover they’re dead ends.

You see, the Kinkster served as an ever-present touchstone during my Manhattan-dwelling younger years, when he and his combo, The Texas Jew Boys, may as well have been the house band at the original location of the Lone Star Cafe.

Neither the club nor the band seemed to survive the move to other quarters. By the time I started getting going in my career, the singer-songwriter had already turned author. I probably read the first novel, Greenwich Killing Time, soon after it was published, although I recall reading the pocket paperback edition, so take soon with a grain or two.

There really was such a club and Kinky really was a regular.

That first book had loads to offer: Local color (it was set in a nearby neighborhood, one  in which I spent a lot of time and to which I was soon to move). Juvenile, even puerile, humor. A not implausible plot. And a heady jolt of Kinky.

Kinky would be Richard Samet “Kinky” (occasionally referred to as Big DIck) Friedman,  singer-songwriter and transplant from the Texas Hill Country to the western reaches of the island of Manhattan. You can find any number of positive descriptions of Mr. Friedman–satirist, lyricist, wordsmith–all of which strike me as that favored ritual of the over-educated: discarding the obvious in favor of things they can explain in ways that display their schooling.

Consider, for a moment, a few of Kinky’s more well-known (to call them hits would be to suggest something far afield from veracity) songs. Almost any trio will do, but try these on: “They’re Not Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” “Ride ‘Em Jewboy” and “Asshole from El Paso.” Whatever merits these songs have as social commentary–and to be sure there’s plenty of finger-wagging and head-shaking in the Friedman repertoire–it’s the juvenalia that reigns supreme. There’s a reason Mojo Nixon cut a campaign ad for Kinky.

Birds of a feather. Kinky Friedman & Mojo Nixon at McCabe’s Guitar Shop
Click the photo for a great review of the show.
Photo courtesy McCabe’s Guitar Shop, no infringement or disrespect intended.

I’ll leave Kinky’s statewide political aspirations aside for (possibly) another day. This is about the mystery novels and the early ones, at least, were a hoot. Supported by a cast of unlikely-to-be-found-together-in-any-place-but-New-York characters, our first-person, semi-autobiographical narrator set about solving crimes. In the tradition of all great crime-humor fiction, the crimes hardly matter and are hardly memorable.

What was memorable was the goofball assembly and their urban trail boss. Often as not sitting at a desk in an under-heated loft, Kinky worked the phones more than anything else. His crew have names like Ratso and McGovern and Rambam and jobs like cop, and Daily News reporter and some sort of vaguely Zionist combination of Bertie Wooster and Q from James Bond.

Mostly, Kinky seemed to ponder connections and run them by his cat, the silent feline sentinel guarding the desk’s two phones and the steer horn which regularly held allotments of Jameson‘s.  As a tec, Kinky models himself on the no-small-talk creations of Chandler and Hammett, even going so far as to borrow phrases from noirs of yore.

That leaves us with a hero who answers the phone, colloquially referred to in these tales as “the blower,” with a two-word exhortation, “Start talking.” There’s probably a  lit cigar close by and there’s as much dining in Chinatown and drinking in dive bars as  sleuthing in these tales. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that was part of the original attraction. After all, it isn’t often you and your book’s hero are living almost the same lifestyle.

The Texas Hill Country is not without its charms.
Photo by Matthew Rutledge, CC 2.0

Alas, our scribe has penned 18 of these opuses and to say that they’re all of equal quality is to waterboard truth. The present volume comprises two capers in two locales. In New York, the family of an autistic child hires Kinky to find their son, who has gone missing. Back down in Texas, Cousin Nancy, who runs a no-kill animal shelter, is distraught at the disappearance of Lucky (check this) the 3-legged (same) cat who functions as a sort of mascot to the operation.

I always hesitate in speaking of the plots of mysteries, but to even suggest this book has a plot, let alone two, is to be far too charitable. To me, the whole thing feels more slapdash than crafted, more like chapters written in a vacuum and stitched together by Dr. Frankenstein.

It’s sort of a shame. I could have used a good laugh. Or an exercise in poking fun at the overly serious.

Either might have rid me of this ridiculous nostalgic moment.










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