Piss ‘n’ vinegar

Over 11 novels, Kinky Friedman has established himself as one of mystery’s most eccentric characters. The ex-lead singer for the Texas Jewboys has chronicled, with a taste for humor that would make Rabelais chuckle, the fictional adventures of Kinky Friedman, amateur detective, and his equally weird and motley band of friends.

The Kinky Friedman of the novels is cast in the Raymond Chandler mold. He’s haunted by his past, partcularly by his friends who, as he calls it, have gone “over the rainbow.” He considers his life tedious, and living in New York City’s Village, hard by where the garbage trucks run, it’s difficult to contradict him. So he gets through the days by thinking, remembering, seeing friends and cracking jokes. All kinds of jokes: sex jokes, Jewish jokes, bathroom humor and anything else that can’t be read out loud in chain bookstores or reprinted in family newspapers.

A little of Kinky Friedman the detective can go a long way. After few novels, readers become familiar with the Kinkster’s style. The two telephones on his desk, the Sherlock Holmes humidor containing his cigars from Cuba (“I’m not supporting a dictatorship,” he cracks, “I’m burning their fields.”), his espresso machine and the conversations with his cat become as familiar as guns, blondes and bodies in private-eye novels.

So the best novels are those in which Kinky Friedman plays a supporting role and letting someone else tell the stories. “A Case of Lone Star” featured a beloved country music nightspot, now long gone. “Roadkill” allowed him to portray Willie Nelson in all his glory, wafting in on clouds of marijuana smoke.

“Blast from the Past” brings in Abbie Hoffman. It is the 1970s and Hoffman has stopped in, on the run from the feds and under an assumed name. He is also being stalked, and when Friedman is shot at, he decides that Something Must Be Done. In this case, it means breaking into William Kunstler’s law office to find out if there was something or someone in Abbie’s past that’s the source of the trouble.

“Blast” is not as evocative of some of Kinky’s best books — there’s still too much of him in here, and familiarity breeds boredom — but his story offers a welcome jolt of piss and vinegar to the thin gruel that passes for humor in most mysteries.