Kinky Friedman: the novel as a gurney


"Spanking Watson," by Kinky Friedman. Simon & Schuster. 256 pages. $23.

As moral uplifters, both left and right, busily seek to purge the popular culture of risk and sin -- to equip everything with warning stickers and rubber bumpers and safety locks -- now is as good a time as any to give thanks for the few profoundly weird figures we as a nation yet possess.

Here's to Kinky Friedman.

Still America's best known Jewish cowboy, his psychotropically inspired country and western song stylings back in the '70s brought us such classics as "Ride 'em, Jewboy!"

Now, thank God, he's back with "Spanking Watson."

Actually, he never really left. For those just catching up, this is the 12th in a series of mystery novels by Friedman, who rebounded brilliantly from an inexplicable decline in popularity as a musician to recast himself some years ago as the central character in a series of private eye capers.

The books are not novels, really. Nor are they mysteries, at least not in any conventional sense. As a genre, they might be found in better bookstores under "Post-Modern, Self-referential, Quasi-fictional, Existential Social Commentary," or something along those lines. If you yearn for assurance that our Puritanical tendencies have not smothered unconventional viewpoints altogether, look no further.

In the new book, the self-styled Sherlock Holmes is ensconced in his Manhattan loft -- smoking an endless succession of cigars, drinking a river of espresso and bourbon and talking to his cat -- when his ceiling collapses under the thundering hoof beats of the lesbian dance studio upstairs.

Miffed about his fallen plaster, and in need of a storyline, Kinky scrawls an anonymous death threat and sends it to the proprietrix of the offending studio, a Ms. Winnie Katz, ostensibly intended to frighten her into leaving the building.

But Kinky also hankers for a little action. So he calls upon his famed "Village Irregulars" -- a hapless band of drinking buddies who comprise a handy stock of ethnic archetypes -- to assist him in unraveling the mysterious death threat.

His real aim, however, is to see which one of them is best suited to become his regular Watson, the foil to his Sherlock. Thus, the title.

There's a twist, though. Get ready. Here it comes.

While the Irregulars are busy infiltrating the lesbian dancers, bumbling for clues up and down fire escapes and alleyways, a real killer surfaces who tries to whack Winnie in earnest. Way over their heads, as usual, Kinky and The Watsons limp to her rescue.

As a mystery novel, it's hopelessly contrived and hammy -- "Inspector Gadget Meets the Three Stooges." It takes Kinky two-thirds of his allotted pages just to get the damn thing rolling. And if you blink, you'll miss the three paragraphs where the whole ball of lint gets resolved.

But that's not the point. Fact is, the "novel" part of the book is merely a vehicle -- a gurney, really -- for a whole lot of Kinky going on.

The same word play that once brought us "They Ain't Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore" skitters across every page, unmasking our politically correct hypocrisy, cracking us in the ass like a wet towel.

Italian, Irish, Gentile, Jew, hetero or gay, there's something here to offend nearly everybody, if the laughter didn't get in the way.

Give the man his 23 bucks, and be glad we have him.

Jim Haner is a reporter for The Sun. He previously worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Miami Herald.

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