Elvis, Jesus & Coca-cola

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

A enjoyable addition to Kinky Friedman’s “autobiographical crime fiction,” ELVIS, JESUS & COCA-COLA nevertheless falls short of his first few murder-mystery adventures. It once more stars the espresso-guzzling, cigar-smoking, former musician eccentric operating out of his Greenwich Village loft apartment. It again features regulars such as Ratso and Rambam, Brennan and McGovern. It also sparkles with the familiar and irreverent wit and woebegone worldview of the hilarious hero cynic. The story, however, is less a whodunit than a whogivesahoot. Still, Friedman’s prose (and attitude) has always overshadowed his plots. With cover-blurb praise by the likes of Willie Nelson and Molly Ivins as well as Robert B. Parker and Joseph Heller, his sixth novel should not suffer a sales slump.

After a funeral for a filmmaker friend, Kinky is asked to locate and retrieve the late pal’s documentary about Elvis impersonators. Before that trail is blazed, the Kinkster is stunned when an occasional lover he nicknamed Uptown Judy (to distinguish her from another lover, Downtown Judy) disappears. There is some circumstantial evidence indicating that she had been abducted, but New York police detectives are almost as unenthusiastic about the case as they are about the involvement of Kinky and his track record for solving quirky murders.

No sooner does the development of the missing Uptown Judy sink in than another person who may be a lead to the Elvis film is murdered. There are few connections—except Kinky. So the intrepid zany drinks some liquor, enlists his Greenwich Village Irregulars, drinks more liquor, reflects on his life, and drinks some more.

Friedman’s writing style is fresh—occasionally a veritable metaphor machine—and amusing. One annoying and early trait is an evident case of thesaurus envy on the part of Friedman (or perhaps his editor). In the first dozen pages or so—for no apparent effect—he uses “desultorily,” “dreideling” and “viaticum.” Such odd and out-of-place clumsiness is more easily overlooked when the characters and color begin to click. The plot does drive to a satisfying, if too-tidy, resolution and Friedman’s brief personal epilogue/epitaph to a companion and collaborator is quite touching.