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Kinky Friedman Biography

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Nationality: American. Born: Richard Friedman, near Kerrville, Texas, 1944. Education: University of Texas, B.A. Career: Peace Corps, Borneo, 1966-68; leader of the country-western band Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys; actor. Agent: Esther Newburg, International Creative Management, 8942 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90211, U.S.A.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

Greenwich Killing Time. New York, Beech Tree Books, 1986.

A Case of Lone Star. New York, Beech Tree Books, 1987.

When the Cat's Away. New York, Beech Tree Books, 1988.

Frequent Flyer. New York, Morrow, 1989.

Musical Chairs. New York, Morrow, 1991.

The Kinky Friedman Crime Club (includes Greenwich Killing Time,A Case of Lone Star, and When the Cat's Away). London, Faber, 1992; published in the United States as Three Complete Mysteries. New York, Wings Books, 1993.

Elvis, Jesus, and Coca Cola. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Armadillos and Old Lace. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1994.

God Bless John Wayne. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1995.

The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Roadkill. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Blast from the Past. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1998.

Spanking Watson: A Novel. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Other

Sold American (musical recording). New York, Vanguard, 1973.

Lasso for El Paso (musical recording). New York, Epic, 1976.

Under the Double Ego (musical recording). Austin, Texas, SunriseRecords, 1984.

Afterword, Daddy-O: Iguana Heads and Texas Tales by Bob "Daddy-O" Wade with Keith and Kent Zimmerman, foreword by Linda Ellerbee. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1995.

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Critical Studies:

Eat, Drink, and Be Kinky: A Feast of Wit and Fabulous Recipes for Fans of Kinky Friedman by Mike McGovern, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1999.

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Kinky Friedman is the author of a dozen mystery novels that star himself as a detective with a distinctive persona—a Texas Jew, a country singer and songwriter turned amateur detective, living in a converted New York loft with a lesbian dance class that practices in the room above, fond of cats, cigars and cracking jokes, and of parading his sometimes politically incorrect prejudices. Friedman's first-person narratives are fuelled by the force of their fast-moving, streetwise, hip style which hardly gives the reader time to draw breath as it moves from one scene and set of characters to another. His work is notable for its combination of comedy with casually-strung plots that are not always easy to follow; Friedman himself has said that he is not interested in intricate plotting and that the secret of a good mystery is that nothing is what it appears to be. He both employs and consciously sends up the conventions of the hardboiled thriller and the detective novel, of Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie, but he updates Chandler and Christie to postmodern America and his gumshoe narrator has a sharp eye for the energy and oddity of the contemporary U.S.A.

Most of Friedman's novels are set in Manhattan and provide a kind of metropolitan picaresque as their hero follows complicated trails of crime across the city. His tone and manner were immediately established by his first book, Greenwich Killing Time, in 1986. Seeking to solve a murder in which the corpse is found holding eleven pink roses, Kinky takes a voyage into the lower depths of New York in pursuit of a strange group of suspects. In his second novel, A Case of Lone Star, he investigates a series of murders of performers at a country and western cafe in Manhattan, while in his third, When the Cat's Away, a friend's stolen cat leads him into a world of murders, gang warfare and illicit drugs trading.

With his fourth novel, Frequent Flyer, Friedman extends the reach of his work. Although Kinky is still largely based in New York, his visit to a friend's funeral in Cleveland, Ohio, where he seems to be the only person to notice that the body in the coffin is that of a total stranger, leads him into what he himself calls a grotesque puzzle that stretches back nearly fifty years to the Nazi era and spans three continents. In Musical Chairs the members of Kinky's own former band, the Texas Jewboys, are the murder targets, which understandably sharpens his investigative zeal, while in Elvis, Jesus and Coca-Cola the victim is a maker of documentary films about Elvis impersonators.

Armadillos and Old Lace sees Kinky, unusually, leaving New York for Texas, where he investigates a series of deaths of elderly ladies, while in The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover, a wife—in what Kinky recognizes as one of the most stereotyped of thriller devices—asks him to find her missing husband and starts him off on a complex inquiry that takes him to New York and Chicago. In Roadkill, he sets out to save an old friend from a Native American curse, while Blast from the Past, as its title suggests, returns to his younger days in New York, recalling his transformation from country singer to detective and the origins of his "Village Irregulars," McGovern, Rambam, and Ratso. Spanking Watson pursues the theme of the Village Irregulars when Kinky tries to find out which of the three would best serve as his Dr. Watson by asking each of them to find out who wrote a death threat to the teacher of the lesbian dance class that practices in the room above his loft; the writer of the threat is Kinky himself—but he then discovers that the teacher is really under threat from another, unknown source.

Friedman's fiction is not to everyone's taste. His novels are carried on his persona rather than on their plots, and the plots are not, in themselves, compelling—indeed, they can sometimes seem to be simply a pretext for the display of Kinky's personality. The other characters in his novels are very much refracted to us through that personality rather than emerging in their own right. Readers who find the personality engaging will enjoy the novels; others may find it oppressive or offensive. But there can be no doubt that Kinky Friedman has put an inimitable stamp upon the mystery thriller of the 1980s and 1990s and has acquired a devoted following. It remains to be seen whether his future work will continue to play variations on his well-established formulae or develop in new directions.

—Nicolas Tredell

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