Simon and Schuster, 200 pp., $24 Kinky Friedman, the sage of Bandera County, has committed another of his mystery confections -- his 15th -- for his many fans. All the elements are in place: the gang of Village Irregulars, eccentric friends of an eccentric detective who goes by the name of Kinky Friedman; the abiding regard for animals, including one-sided discussions with the resident cat in his Village loft; the humorous riffs on Jewish identity; and the ribald stream of jokes, wit, wordplay, and cultural references, all whipped into a mélange of reading pleasure.
The zany, madcap style seemed a little forced in chapter one and delayed the enjoyment of a rather good plot until subsequent chapters. Friedman's plots are often slender enough, but in his new effort the plot is engaging and more substantive than his customary armature for telling tales. In Meanwhile Back at the Ranch, detective Kinky Friedman finds himself working three cases at once, cases he has code-named, for the sake of confidentiality, Moe, Larry, and Curly. One of the cases involves a missing three-legged cat in Texas, and another revolves around the disappearance of an autistic boy of 10 in Manhattan. Detective Kinky meets a parade of fantastic characters in both efforts, and the reader is invited along for the ride.
Friedman successfully assays a satire of noir fiction with a telephone ever called a "blower" and being "cradled" instead of hung up. A cell phone is a "shoe-phone" and the activity of walking is "ankling" or "legging." Most of this works marvelously well, although upon hearing for the 10th time that when he leaves his place he "left the cat in charge," the drollery has been thoroughly expressed. Reading a Kinky Friedman mystery is like standing next to the funniest drunk at the bar: The bar chat is hilarious, the stories engaging, the tippling fine, and a good time is had by all present, in moderation. Grabbing a copy of Meanwhile Back at the Ranch will give you your own evening of good company.
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