Murray, KY – You're probably familiar with our Front Blog series, Good Reads, books recommended by WKMS staff, students and volunteers. A great book doesn't always have to be one that ponders the unknowable or delves into life's quandaries. Mystery novel fan Michael Cohen recommends an uncommon read about a raunchy country singer turned private investigator and a bus accident involving a Hopi Indian.
Kinky Friedman has been a country singer, a Peace Corps volunteer, and a mystery novelist. He was in the news in 2006, running as an independent for governor of Texas and managing to get more than twelve percent of the vote. He toured for years with his band, called the Texas Jewboys. The name may give you a clue to Friedman's approach to language and propriety. In Roadkill, his tenth mystery novel casting himself in the role of country singer turned private investigator, as in all of Friedman's books, the writing is raunchy and the political correctness is absent. Friedman never passes on the opportunity to make a bad pun, an obvious double entendre, or a crude reference to body functions or body parts. The result is fairly sophomoric, but hey, we've all been sophomores, and the fact that we've moved on doesn't mean we can't enjoy Friedman's arrested development.
The mystery in Roadkill concerns Friedman's real-life friend Willie Nelson, whose tour bus, the Honeysuckle Rose, accidently killed a Hopi Indian on Interstate 40 near Winslow, Arizona. Sometime later, Willie was handed a small buckskin package, a bundle of bad medicine that sends him into a noncommunicative funk. But it's clear to his friends, including Friedman, that Nelson believes he is going to die from an Indian curse. Friedman doesn't believe it, and when Nelson's look-alike assistant is shot, he begins to investigate. Willie Nelson, after all, is a friend of the Indians, and probably part Indian himself. Moreover, if he were fated to die, why would it be necessary to try to kill him?
Part of the book takes place on the road with Willie's tour and part in New York, where Friedman's apartment is fitted up in ways that recall the bachelor quarters of Sherlock Holmes and Watson in Baker Street. Instead of keeping pipe tobacco in a Persian slipper like Holmes, Kinky keeps Cuban cigars in a porcelain head of Sherlock Holmes. Friedman's Watson is called Ratso, and there are other allusions to mystery writing. The suspect in this case is named Arthur W. Upfield the name will be familiar to mystery fans as the Australian writer who created the Aborigine Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte of the Queensland Police, and Friedman more than once refers to "pointing the bone," or directing an Aborigine curse; the phrase is the title of one of Upfield's books.
In addition to Willie Nelson and some of the members of his entourage, some of Friedman's other friends show up with their real names in his books. If they all do indeed remain friends, it's a testimony that none of them is taking Friedman's books too seriously. We shouldn't either; if you're in the mood for a raunchy reading romp, the Kinkster's your man.
Michael Cohen is a Professor Emeritus at Murray State University.
Looking for more recommended books from WKMS? Click here to check out our Good Reads page.