Review by Steven Robert Allen
The Prisoner of Vandam Street
Simon & Schuster
Kinky Friedman, that loveable, footloose, animal-loving, Hebrew cowboy from Texas, plans to run for governor of his home state as an independent in 2006. His campaign slogan is "Why the Hell Not?" and he's distributed official campaign bumper stickers that read, "He ain't Kinky, He's Your Governor."
I've been charmed by Kinky's clever country tunes in the past, and Rear Window is my favorite Alfred Hitchcock flick, so I figured I'd give The Prisoner of Vandam Street a whirl. Kinky's 15th mystery novel is a loose and ridiculous retelling of that fantastic movie. The story starts out with the great Sherlockian sleuth discovering he's contracted a rare form of malaria. His doctor confines him to his apartment in lower Manhattan for several weeks to convalesce.
Kinky becomes a prisoner in his own home recuperating under the lackluster supervision of his so-called friends, the drunk and disorderly Village Irregulars. When he isn't suffering from fever and hallucinations, Kinky spends most of his time staring out his window with a pair of opera glasses. One day he sees a pretty young woman in a window across the street getting beaten up by a mysterious man.
Unfortunately, when he calls the cops to investigate the crime, they find neither a victim nor an apartment in the building across the street. Kinky and his friends are left wondering if the crime actually occurred or if he just imagined it in a malaria-induced fever dream. But a few days later, Kinky observes the man returning, and this time he has a gun.
Although the story feels a little thin for my tastes, Kinky rips off some pretty good jokes, and I enjoyed much of his wild prose. Many of the best parts of the book, though, would make even better song lyrics, like his long hallucinogenic riff on cat shit, inspired by his cat's pooping on everything in his apartment except the litter box. "Mt. Everest was made of cat shit," Kinky writes. "Palestine was made of cat shit. The pope was made of cat shit. Jesus was made of cat shit. God was made of cat shit. Peter Jennings was made of cat shit. Scientists will some day discover that all of mankind is made of cat shit except for one man. That man is John Ashcroft. Scientists will some day discover that John Ashcroft is made of horseshit. Just another reason not to open your eyes."
Imagine that being set to music.
Even though this book isn't exactly my cup of tea, in both his real and his fictional incarnations, Kinky is one of the most charismatic personalities alive. Yeah, it's true that George W. Bush, who's not exactly a lover of literature, has said he's a big fan of Kinky's books. But don't let that stop you from getting kinky. Just make sure your shades are down.
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