"The Prisoner of Vandam Street"
(reviewed by Hagen Baye APR 23, 2004)
It is practically an insult to the intelligence of his readers for real-life author, Kinky Friedman to expect those who read his 17th book, The Prisoner of Vandam Street, to believe that his fictional counterpart, amateur private investigator, Kinky Friedman, would actually be distressed by his friends' concern that he is going nuts. Here is a man who has declared his candidacy for the governorship of the State of Texas on a platform of legalizing casino gambling, outlawing the declawing of cats and the banning of political correctness; who plans to kick off his campaign with a series of Kinky's Governor's Balls; and who says his first act, if elected, would be to demand a recount--like the real-life Kinky Friedman has all of his marbles?
In Prisoner, a several decade-long, dormant strain of malaria, probably contracted during his Peace Corp stint in the jungles of Borneo, of all places, rears its feverish head and forces the confinement of amateur sleuth Kinky Friedman to his loft on Vandam Street in the corner of lower Manhattan which is west of Soho and north of Tribeca, and which neighborhood consists mostly of old manufacturing lofts (some converted to residential use, like Kinky's), warehouses and a NYC Department of Sanitation garbage truck depot. Kinky contracts Plasmodium falciparum, the only "truly deadly" of the four strains are of malaria. His doctor, Dr. Q. Tip Skinnipipi, orders strict bed rest for at least six weeks; otherwise, Kinky risks being "bugled to Jesus," as he likes to say. Friedman is left to the care of his "Village Irregulars," the aforementioned friends whom he has called upon for assistance in solving the various capers he has taken on over the years in his previous books. Ratso, McGovern, Brennan and Piers Akerman (just in from Australia)--all real-life friends of the real-life Kinky--commit to care for him around the clock on a rotating basis. This stint of volunteerism turns into more of an ongoing party, more for the benefit of the Irregulars, less for Kinky's benefit, who suffers through recurring bouts of high fever and chills, which reduces him to phases of wild, delirious dreams.
During a break in the Irregulars' party action, Kinky finds himself all alone in the loft with only his cat. He sits by the kitchen window looking out onto Vandam Street with opera glasses. In a scene reminiscent of the Hitchcock movie Rear Window, except it’s the front window in Kinky's case, a promising peeping-Tom view of an attractive woman turns ugly when a man appears and brutally beats her. Outraged, but otherwise helpless to render any meaningful assistance due to his malarious state, Kinky's only alternative is to dial 911 and report the domestic violence incident happening in the apartment across the street from his loft. Soon after making the call, Kinky is rendered unconscious by the sudden onslaught of a fever/chill attack, to be awakened by the Village Irregulars and the police officers responding to his 911 call. The cops investigate but find neither the apartment nor evidence of any domestic dispute in the building across the street.
All figure that Kinky imagined it all during the course of a delirious dream. When he later claims to have seen the same man at the same window with a gun, all begin to think that he has turned delusional and this is why they seriously consider getting him psychiatric help. This lack of confidence in his credibility makes Kinky distressed, for reasons that should be incomprehensible to the reader familiar with both the real-live and fictional Kinky Friedman (see the first paragraph above.)
In any event, frustrated about his lack of credibility with the Village Irregulars and desperate to assist the damsel in distress before the domestic violence escalates to murder, Kinky enlists the services of Kent Perkins, a friend and licensed private investigator in California. Perkins utilizes the full array of his investigative resources--hypotism, his expert interrogation abilities, his leadership skills to cull some meaningful assistance from the recalcitrant Village Irregulars, access to various internet research sources, as well as the general wiles of an experienced and talented private eye--to determine whether Kinky's claims are real or imagined; and if real, besides confirming Friedman's sanity (in Kinky's mind at least), to identify the woman and contact her, so she can be assured that, if she wants, there is an escape route available out of the abusive relationship she appears to be trapped in. It would spoil the book to say anything further about what Kent is able to accomplish, except to say that is it worthwhile reading.
In Prisoner, as in his other books, Kinky Friedman's writing is characterized by witty, sophomoric, scatological, politically incorrect and double entendre quips that carry the narrative and dialogue. Here are representative samples from Prisoner:
"[T]here was no reason to let little things put a strain on a relationship that was already hanging by spit."
"[W]hen you're lying at death's door, alternately freezing your ass off or burning to death, charm has its limitations."
"This is when I learned the great secret of life and death: When you close your eyes, the living disappear, but the dead keep on living. So I traded one Ratso and one McGovern for everyone else I'd ever loved and lost. It was a good trade, actually, but it wasn't quite enough to win the pennant."
"Indians, for instance, do not believe you can own land, or a river, or a dog, or a horse. The only things Indians truly believe you can own are casinos."
"You're born alone and you die alone so you might as well get used to it."
"They didn't know whether to [defecate] or go bowling."
"I didn't know whether to kill myself or get a haircut."
"I didn't know whether to [defecate] or go blind."
These quips demonstrate Friedman's way with words. Some may find a number of his intended humorous quips to be insensitive and crass, instead; and there is no doubt that a number do cross the objective line of insensitivity and crassness. However, a central theme to Friedman's writings, and real life behavior as well, is that we tend to take too many things more seriously than we should, including Kinky's kookiness, and we should simply get a grip and try to enjoy ourselves "during our brief sublet on this planet." Friedman's writings just may assist us in that effort.
- Amazon readers rating: from 11 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Prisoner of Vandam Street at MostlyFiction.com(back to top)
"Meanwhile Back at the Ranch"
(reviewed by Hagen Baye JUN 18, 2003)
This is the 15th book in former country-western singer/song writer Kinky Friedman's mystery series featuring fictional former country western singer/song writer, now private eye, Kinky Friedman. The book opens with fictional Friedman overloaded with three cases on his New York home front. In typical Kinky (real life and fictional) fashion, the cases are referred to as Moe, Larry and Curly. The prime focus at the moment is Larry, a case involving the mysterious disappearance of Dylan Weinberg, a 9 year-old autistic boy. Then, along comes an emergency from Kinky's beloved Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch in Utopia, Texas, and Kinky is soon further stretched by a new case thousands of miles away in his home state. So-called (though not really his) Cousin Nancy informs Kinky that Lucky, a beloved 3-legged cat, one of the Ranch's first rescuees, has disappeared under dubious circumstances. Nancy fears foul play on the part of one or more of her neighbors, a number of whom do not take kindly to the presence of the numerous former stray and/or abused animals who inhabit the Ranch, or to the noise which emanates from it.
Kinky (both real and fictional) is a devout animal lover [see "Cuddles Epilogue"] and is torn between both cases, as--among other things--his case named Larry requires his spending time with Dylan's attractive sister, Julia, who appears willing to reciprocate Kinky's amorous intentions. But ultimately duty triumphs, and Kinky recruits Steve Rambam, a member of Kinky's so-called "Village Irregulars" who assist him in his various crime solving ventures, to cover for him in New York, while Kinky himself heads to Texas in search for Lucky.
Meanwhile Back at the Ranch involves Kinky's successful resolution of Dylan's and Lucky's disappearances. This particular book is slim in length, and in other ways as well, compared to Friedman's other books. Appreciation of Kinky Friedman generally, and of his fiction writing in particular, is an acquired taste. The qualities which typically attract a reader to crime fiction--things like action, plot and character development--are not always Kinky's strong points. His strong point is the humor expressed through the quips and wisecracks that pepper the dialogue and his writing generally. The following represent some examples:
"It pays to have a sense of humor in this life. If you don't, Allah knows what will happen."
"How's my second-favorite public servant?"
"Second favorite?...Who's your first?"
"As always, we might take something great and make it good."
Many of the quips and wisecracks poke fun at narrow-minded thinking and behavior and are to a certain extent satirical, although none of his books can be characterized as satire, as, other than the specific point of each particular statement, the main topic of each book does not satirize anything. The statements are in large part about sex, religion and politics; many are even scatological (such as the reference to defecating--which probably appears in all his books--as "taking a Nixon") and risqué as well. But, Kinky Friedman, the cigar smoking, espresso and brandy guzzling, Texas-born Jew with a New York attitude, whose musical group was named Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys, perhaps best known for the song "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore," is a truly original character and in large part quite kooky. He is also rather clever and even brilliant with the zany comments that carry his stories and are the schtick that characterizes the Kinkster's personality and work.
- Amazon readers rating: from 9 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Meanwhile Back at the Ranch at MostlyFiction.com(back to top)
"The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover"
(reviewed by Judi Clark APR 9, 1999)
Kinky Friedman, the protagonist (not the author) is an ex-country western singer turned private eye. As in all hard-boiled detective novels, a beautiful woman seeks his services. She wants him to find her missing husband. Meanwhile, Kinky's best friend, journalist Mike McCarthy, sees green men, receives calls from an improbable 107 year old mobster, has problems with his electrical appliances and finally, has visits from what appear to be Men In Black. The story is zany and the one-liners are exceptional. I could quote lines to you from this whole book but then you'd still have to read it because the story is what really makes it. I suppose what surprised me most is the tie in to Sherlock Holmes. OK, he drops name, including his own, throughout the book, and I get a kick out of his reference to a fictional detective. Go figure!
I picked up this book at at Building 19 sometime last year. I didn't read it right away because when I got home I noticed that the back cover photo was taken by Don Imus of the Morning fame and someone I think is a jerk. So, I figured Friedman had the same immature sense of humor. The other day I was sorting through my books and I started to read the first few pages of The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover, just to see if I should pass it on -- or not. I started to laugh. And then I was hooked and ended up finishing the book by the next day. Maybe Kinky Friedman is a jerk, but he sure is a funny one. Amazingly enough, I discovered that I own an autographed copy. I mean for real, the pen marks are dents on the page! Just goes to show you never know what you'll find in a bargain store...
- Amazon reader rating: from 5 reviews
Read an excerpt for the Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover at SimonSays.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Greenwich Killing Time (1986)
- A Case of Lone Star (1987)
- When the Cat's Away (1988)
- Frequent Flyer (1989)
- Musical Chairs (1991)
- Elvis, Jesus and Coca Cola (1993)
- Armadillo's and Old Lace (1994)
- God Bless John Wayne (1995)
- The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover (1996)
- Road Kill (1997)
- Blast From The Past (1998)
- Spanking Watson (1999)
- The Mile High Club (September 2000)
- Steppin' on a Rainbow (September 2001)
- Meanwhile Back at the Ranch (September 2002)
- The Prisoner of Vandam Street (March 2004)
- Ten Little New Yorkers (March 2005)
- The Christmas Pig : A Fable (November 2006)
- Kill Two Birds & Get Stoned (April 2003)
- Kinky Friedman's Guide to Texas Etiquette: Or How to Get to Heaven or Hell Without Going Through Dallas-Fort Worth (2001)
- 'Scuse Me While I Whip This Out: Reflections on Country Singers, Presidents and Other Troublemakers (October 2005)
- Texas Hold 'Em: How I was Born in a Manger, Died in the Saddle, and Came Back as a Horny Toad (May 2005)
- Cowboy Logic: The Wit and Wisdom of Kinky Friedman (May 2006)
- You Can Lead a Politician to Water, But You Can't Make Him Think (October 2007)
- Eat, Drink and Be Kinky: A Feast of Wit and Fabulous Recipes for Fans of Kinky Friedman by Mike McGovern
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- Kinky Friedman's Official Website
- Old article on Kinky Friedman
- Notable Quotes
- Kinky Friedman's run for Texas Governor and another article
- JanuaryMagazine review of Blast from the Past
- Bookpage review of Spanking Watson
- CNN.com review of The Mile High Club
- iVenus.com review of The Mile High Club
- Over My Dead Body review of The Mile High Club
- The Austin Chronicle review of Steppin' on a Rainbow
- USA Today review of Steppin' on a Rainbow
- Spank the Monkey review of Steppin' on a Rainbow
- Backspace review of The Prisoner of Vandam Street
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About the Author:
Long before he became a novelist, Kinky Friedman was writing and singing country songs. However, he wrote songs with what he calls a social message, something ludicrous for a country western band. "Get Your Biscuits In the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed" and "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore" were a couple of his more offensive famous hits. Kinky lives in the Texas hill country, near Kerrville and is promising to write two more novels.