"Kiss Me Judas"
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie FEB 17, 2005)
A part of me still sleeps beside her, twitching and bloody in a cooler meant for soft drinks. I see her driving a stolen car with the windows down and country music on the radio. She sings softly to herself and I'm sure she has a lovely voice. She's taking my kidney to Las Vegas. She's going to trade it to the devil for a record contract. I will find her. I will come to her dressing room with champagne and chocolates and I will kill her.
Phineas Poe, an alcoholic, drug addict, and former investigator for the Internal Affairs Division of The Denver Police Department, was just released from a state psych ward where he landed when his wife, Lucy, was killed in an accident last spring. She may have committed suicide, she was slowly dying from leukemia and had been depressed. Or her death may have been the result of a boating accident. Or Phineas may have shot her, an act he occasionally hallucinates. The reader never actually learns the facts behind Lucy's death. They're not what's important here.
This surreal, very edgy noir novel opens around Christmastime, with Poe drinking vodka at a hotel bar. A stunning woman in red sits down beside him. Her name is Jude. "She has a scar at the edge of her mouth and disturbing eyes. Her body is like a knife." It has been too long since he sat so close to a woman. The two go up to his room. She is $200 richer before they open the door. Whenever he awakens, he does so in a tub filled with melting ice and watery blood, minus a kidney. The lovely lady has absconded with a vital organ and left our hero oozing, but neatly sutured...er stapled. She also left a note for Poe - "If you want to live, call 911."
Events only become more bizarre as the tale continues. Poe leaves the hospital way too soon, nauseous, weak, still bleeding and barely able to walk. He has to find Jude. She has stolen his heart along with the kidney. Definitely smitten, Phineas wants one more tete-a-tete with this scalpel wielding woman. He wants her body, along with some champagne, before he finally kills her. Their reunion is his ultimate goal, although he is so high and hallucinatory most of the time, that occasionally the two are together and Poe is unaware of it. Phineas would like to recover his kidney too, and see if it is possible to reinsert it back where it belongs. He calls his friend Crumb, proprietor of a local sex shop, The Witch's Teat, who practices medicine on the side. Crumb takes care of gunshot wounds and even dental work, for the cheap and the desperate. He is not a doctor, or even a past med student, but he does have a closet filled with old medical texts. He is certainly able to dispense friendly advice, check on Poe's wound...and even better, give him morphine for the pain. Somewhere around this point, Poe discovers he may, or may not, have a bag of heroin stuffed inside him where his left kidney used to live. The heroin is payment for the organ Jude stole and was supposed to have delivered. Did she deliver?
Poe and Jude hook up, finally, and go on an implausible mission together with an objective I am not totally sure of - but it doesn't matter. It's the getting there that's important -the things that happen along the way. Look at the "Wizard of Oz!" From Denver to Las Vegas to El Paso, the two meet a succession of sinister, twisted men and women who usually wind up dead: Crumb, Eve and Georgia, Rose White, Moon, Blister, Pooh, Luscious Gore, etc.. One needs to suspend disbelief to get into this paranoid nightmarish scenario. And when one does, it all fits into place nicely. I had a blast reading this rather compelling novel and intend to read Will Christopher Baer's other two Phineas Poe books, Penny Dreadful and Hell's Half Acre.
Baer's first-person narrative, sometimes dreamy, sometimes incoherent, always strong, is perfect here once the reader is able to loosen up and go with the flow. What does that mean, actually? Well, reading Kiss Me Judas is like having a fascinating conversation with an intelligent person who often hallucinates. Jude pumps Phineas full of liquid Valium and morphine, for pain and to control him, so his mind does wander far and wide, and he is the one telling the story - with great flair and occasional confusion. Once you get the rhythm and understand the tangents, it works. Trust me! This quirky novel is well worth the read. And I loved the conclusion - it suits!
- Amazon readers rating: from 51 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Phineas Poe Series
- Kiss Me, Judas (1998; September 2004)
- Penny Dreadful (2000; September 2004)
- Hell's Half Acre (September 2004)
- Godspeed (November 2007)
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- The official website for Will Christopher Baer
- Bookslut interview with Will Christopher Baer
- ThoughtPeach.com interview with Will Christopher Baer
- SFGate.com review of Kiss Me, Judas
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About the Author:
Will Christopher Baer was born in Mississippi in 1966 and comes from an old Southern family, though he did live in Montreal and Italy as a child. He spent high school years in Memphis, Tennessee and attended college in New Orleans, Louisiana (Tulane). He later finished his BA at Memphis State. In 1995, he received an MFA from the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Baer has worked as homeless counselor, taxi driver, bartender, video store geek, college professor (Evergreen State, Olympia, Washington), screenwriter, and journalist. His short stories have been published in numerous places, including Nerve and Bomb.
Chris is married with one child by a previous marriage. He has lived in California since 1996 and currently resides in Santa Barbara.