Tongue Tied (Donald Strachey Series #8)

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A long-defunct gay activist group seems to be threatening radio shock jock Jay Plankton. As The J-Bird, the man's hate-filled rants offend Strachey deeply. Among the subjects Stevenson tackles in this series entry is homophobia in modern police services like the NYPD, where coming out carries more than its usual share of costs.
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A long-defunct gay activist group seems to be threatening radio shock jock Jay Plankton. As The J-Bird, the man's hate-filled rants offend Strachey deeply. Among the subjects Stevenson tackles in this series entry is homophobia in modern police services like the NYPD, where coming out carries more than its usual share of costs.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Don't we all entertain fantasies about what we'd like to do to those toxic shock jocks who foul the airwaves with their hate-filled rants? Donald Strachey, the fastidious gay sleuth in Richard Stevenson's Tongue Tied and several previous books in this sophisticated series, is above all that. But as a favor to a friend in the New York Police Department, this Albany private eye lends a hand when Jay Plankton, a radio talk show host appositely named for a primitive life-form, is plagued by threats from a long-dormant gay-activist group that appears to have resurfaced as a gang of crypto-terrorists. Once the alphabetized threats turn nasty — with ''Gas for the gaseous'' comes a canister of tear gas, and ''H is for hostage'' involves a kidnapping -- Stevenson smoothly engineers the action into a smartly entertaining investigation that also makes a serious point about the uneasy lives of gay cops: ''The out cops get beat up on, and the nonout cops beat up on themselves.'' — Marilyn Stasio
The Washington Post
Tongue Tied is the eighth Strachey mystery from the pen of Richard Stevenson, the pseudonym of Book World mystery columnist Richard Lipez. Like the earlier books, it wears its politics on its sleeve but doesn't let up on the wit and inventiveness -- which this time includes a wisecracking Amish gay activist farmer, as well as a nutritious snack known as Berkshire Woolly Llama Cheese. — Zofia Smardz
Publishers Weekly
In Tongue Tied: A Donald Strachey Mystery, Richard Stevenson's eighth amusing whodunit to feature his gay Albany, N.Y., PI, Strachey has to figure out who tossed a tear-gas canister into the studio of Jay Plankton (aka "J-Bird''), the first of other, increasingly bizarre attacks on the radio "shock jock" during the period leading up to the 2000 elections. Straight and gay readers will appreciate the author's wry social commentary. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Who does a New York City radio shock-jock well-known for his anti-PC invective call when he becomes the target of a stinky harassing campaign for which a long-moribund gay rights group claims responsibility? Gay Albany shamus Donald Strachey, of course, because the ties he had to FFF-the Forces of Free Faggotry-back in the 1970s will give him an inside track against those Forces threatening to besmirch Jay ("J-Bird") Plankton's pristine image. The only problems are (1) that FFF effectively disbanded 20 years ago-the few surviving members Strachey can find, equable New Jersey Amish farmer Thad Diefendorfer and ex-firebrand Kurt Zinsser, reborn as the neoconservative manufacturer of Woolly Llama Cheese, pooh-pooh the idea that their old chums could be involved-and (2) that whoever's behind the nefarious plot doesn't stay content with dirty tricks for long but rapidly escalates to kidnapping Leo Moyle, the J-Bird sidekick who specializes in gay-baiting, and then exchanging him for an even-higher-profile victim. Joining forces with tempting Thad to rescue the abductee with or without the help of New York's most closeted, Strachey soon finds himself in over his head. The rollicking mystery isn't up to much, but it does give Stevenson (Strachey's Folly,1998, etc.) the chance for dozens of sharp digs, and a few more telling ruminations, about sexual-preference politics back in the last days before the 2000 elections. No homicides or explicit sex, but rated PG-13 for politically insensitive speech, poop jokes (and actual poop), maimings, amputations, and the licentious and demeaning use of a tattoo gun.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781608200092
  • Publisher: MLR Press
  • Publication date: 5/25/2009
  • Series: Donald Strachey Series, #8
  • Pages: 212
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.48 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Stevenson is the pseudonym for Richard Lipez. As Stevenson, he is the author of eight novels featuring Albany private investigator Donald Strachey. As Lipez, he writes journalism and reviews crime fiction for newspapers such as the Berkshire Eagle and The Washington Post.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The 24-across clue was "'The Oblong Box' writer," and the answer was looming just over the hazy horizon of my Friday-morning mind when the man in the Amtrak seat next to me whipped out his cell phone, punched in some numbers, and announced, "Ed, it's Al."

I looked up from the folded-in-quarters arts section of the Times and said to the back of the seat ahead of me, "Ed, it's Al."

Missing just a fraction of a beat, Al said, "I'm on the train. I'll see Quinn when I get there, and I'm having lunch with Margaret Wills."

While Al listened to Ed's reply, I said, "I'm on the train. I'll see Quinn when I get there, and I'm having lunch with Margaret Wills."

Al peered over at me, and I peered back. Then he told Ed, "Listen, there's a guy in the seat next to me who..."

Like a simultaneous-translation whiz at the UN, I was right behind him. "Listen, there's a guy in the seat next to me who..."

I grinned as I said it, and Al's look of annoyance was turning to apprehension. This would make a good story when he met Quinn and then when he dined with Margaret Wills--"Would you believe, I was sitting next to this prick on the train who ... "--but for now it must have been starting to seem to Al that I could be dangerous.

"Hang on a second," Al told Ed. He gathered up his laptop, flipped up and secured his tray table, stood, retrieved his nicely folded suit jacket from the overhead rack, and looked my way but avoided eye contact. He muttered, "Asshole," and strode up the aisle with his belongings.

Al found an aisle seat near the front of the car, where he disappeared from view if not entirely from earshot. Over the next few minutes, Istill caught a word from time to time over the train's low whoosh and steady clickety-clack, although now Al was another unlucky passenger's voluble neighbor.

I went back to the crossword puzzle, but "The Oblong Box" writer's name was still beyond my reach. It was just three letters and should have been obvious. Amy Tan? Carolyn See? It didn't sound like either one. Myrna Loy? Eddie Foy? Not writers. I jumped down to 26-across: "spawn." Again, three letters. Kid? Doubtful. The Times puzzle makers could be slangy, but never imprecise.

I gazed out the window at the broad Hudson flying by, the blue Catskills hazy beyond the far shore. We sped south past a tanker pushing upstream to Albany, fuel for the state office workers' Subarus and minivans and the Pataki administration limos. A shirtless man and a woman wearing a green halter and red headband paddled downriver in a yellow canoe closer in to the near shore. The mountains across the water lolled like hippos in the July sun.

Another couple of words flew back from noisy Al, and I wondered how long it would take before Amtrak felt enough customer pressure and segregated cell phone yakkers the way it once had smokers. Would mounting numbers of letters and phone calls do it, or would a media-worthy "incident" trigger the regulations? Poughkeepsie--A Schenectady man was roughed up by three Amtrak passengers, and his cellular telephone flushed down the lavatory toilet by a fourth....

Or would public cell phone high-decibel palaver come to be seen as a First Amendment issue, with the Supreme Court forced eventually to rule on what ought to be a question not of constitutional law but of manners, and with the ACLU left in the awkward position of defending not endangered free speech but mere pains in the ass?

The question of genuine social harm versus simple obnoxiousness was of more than passing interest to me, for I was about to--maybe--take on as a client a man six or eight million Americans considered an exhilarating breath of fresh air, while others--I was one--thought of him as, if not a social menace, then certainly a tiresome gasbag.

Like cell phone boorishness, the caustic iconoclasm of Jay Plankton--"the J-Bird" to his radio fans--seemed to me a social phenomenon to be avoided but no threat to the republic. I even knew intelligent and perfectly sane people who found Plankton delightful--none of them black or gay, although more of them women than I could readily comprehend.

And unlike Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh, both basically entertainers with crude gimmicks--bathroom and sex jokes in the one case, inflaming hinterland right-wingers in the other--the J-Bird actually seemed to hold convictions, however confused and ill-informed. He regularly lured public figures, sometimes elected officials, onto his seven a.m. to ten a.m. show, where they spoke more candidly--or at least with a more shrewd approximation of candor--than they did in other public venues. And they engaged in the uniquely American form of humor that's the democratic alternative to Shavian wit, guys joshing one another.

Plankton did, however, maintain such a gift for sour invective--people he didn't like were "diseased toads" and "maggot mouths" and "lying sacks of bull puke"--that some of his targets or their admirers occasionally became furious. And his rants, egged on by an on-air claque of like-minded but less talented men whose job opportunities elsewhere might have been limited, sometimes even triggered physical threats against the J-Bird.

That's where I came in. Plankton's producer had learned of a minor encounter I'd once had with a radical group, the Forces of Free Faggotry, that had been making the J-Bird's life miserable for several months and now threatened to make it even worse. Would I, could I, go to work for this man? Maybe not, although I was curious to learn what the FFF was up to, and of course to get a firsthand look at a widely popular man I couldn't stand. So here I was, headed south at seventy-eight miles an hour, eight seats back from Al, and flummoxed by 24-across.

The FFF, I thought, had fallen apart sometime in the seventies. And yet apparently it was back, a band of self-described queer revolutionaries in the era of Will & Grace. The cognitive dissonance was considerable--or would have been if I hadn't listened to the J-Bird's show the day before and renewed my appreciation of how this guy might inspire violent rage in some people.

The FFF had not been violent in its earlier incarnation; in the late sixties and early seventies the group specialized in rescuing young gays and lesbians from mental institutions their parents had put them in to have them "cured" of their homosexuality. The FFF had employed brash and sometimes illegal methods, but all the viciousness had been on the other side. It seemed unlikely that the old FFFers had at this late date turned into cryptoterrorists--most revolutionaries mellow in middle age--but the J-Bird seemed to think they had.

I gave the crossword puzzle a rest from its exertions, and by the time I made my way back to my seat with a foam cup of Amtrak's extraordinarily rich and flavorful coffee, the train, due at Penn Station in forty minutes, was close enough to the city for me to pick up the J-Bird's show on Timothy Callahan's radio.

This was the radio with earphones that Timmy used when he lounged on the deck behind our Crow Street house in Albany on warm summer Friday evenings to listen to the concerts broadcast from Tanglewood. He used the earphones because, he said, the neighbors might not be as crazy about Schumann as he was. In his consideration for others, an admirable anachronism was Callahan. Of course, he also relied on the earphones to mask the sounds of neighbors with stereos who were more in tune with the times than he was, and of the carrying-on around our kitchen table whenever I could lure in the elderly lesbian couple who lived two doors down the street for a raucous game of hearts.

"Gore is ridiculous, just ridiculous, and that ... that smirking, no-good weasel Bush is no better..." The J-Bird was in hyperrant, his famous barroom-loudmouth-at-two-a.m. slurred snarl at full throttle. "I might not vote at all. I might just ... leave the country before I pull the switch for either one of those two ... sorry losers."

To the approving chortles of his studio buddies--the newsreader, the sports reporter, and two other attendants whose roles were murkier--Plankton fumed on. He had supported John McCain and Bill Bradley in the spring primaries, and the J-Bird was beside himself with frustration over the electorate having been left to choose between the two unworthies, George Bush and Al Gore. That the policy ideas of McCain, a conservative on every subject except campaign finance, and of Bradley, the largely unreconstructed liberal, were diametrically opposed was of no concern to Plankton, who seemed to judge people not by their ideas, or even their behavior necessarily, but by their degree of "guyness."

Guyness to the J-Bird mainly meant a style built around hurling insults, usually involving physical characteristics, at people who enjoyed the abuse--or at people who didn't like it at all and when they said so could be called "politically correct" whiners. People like Bradley, who didn't necessarily relish this form of discourse but good-naturedly went along with it, were okay guys too. It helped that Bradley was tall. Short was bad and fat even worse. Despite the antigay tone of the show--one of the hangers-on crooned and lisped whenever the subject came up--the weird obsession with weight and body shape on the J-Bird show was reminiscent of a bevy of West Hollywood gym queens. It was one of the show's odder inconsistencies.

On this Friday morning, the J-Bird blustered on about the deficiencies of George W. Bush--who affected guyness but who was such a privileged brat that his guyness was inauthentic and therefore beneath contempt--and of Al Gore, who was regarded as plastic and slippery and not nearly rough-hewn enough, despite his having been to war and back, an opportunity for guyness that the J-Bird had chosen to forgo.

"Having to pick between these two sniveling pipsqueaks sucks, it just sucks!" the J-Bird sputtered on. "And Nader--he's no better. That priss, that whiner. Although at least he's got some guts. He did take on ... back in the sixties ... who was it? Was it Chrysler?"

"It was General Motors," the newsreader put in.

"General Motors, then."

"Rear-end collisions on the ... what was it? The Corvair? The Pinto?"

"A pinto's not a car; it's a bean," the J-Bird said.

"The musical fruit."

"Like Elton John," came another voice, one of the J-Bird's Greek chorus.

"What?" The J-Bird didn't get it at first.

"Elton John, the musical fruit." More chuckles all around.

"Is he running for president? He couldn't be any worse than the pathetic bozos we have to pick from now."

"I do tholemnly thwear, Mary, that I will uphold the Conthituthun..."

This brought cackles, and I had just about decided to skip the meeting with Plankton, have a pleasant lunch in the park, and board the next train back to Albany, when the laughter on the radio suddenly stopped.

"Hey, what the eff...!" It was Plankton's voice, but then it was gone too, and a commercial came on for a New Jersey Toyota dealer. This was followed by a short silence, then a second ad, and a third. Then the J-Bird returned briefly--from another studio, he said--to announce that the rest of the day's show would be a recording of an earlier show, and he would explain it all the following Monday. It was hard to understand all of the J-Bird's words, for he seemed to be choking.

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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 8 of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    amusing tale

    New York based Jay ¿J Bird Plankton is a typical right wing shock radio DJ. However, his harangues obviously upset some people because he has become the target of a campaign of harassment and pranks by the Forces of Free Faggotry, a 1970s gay rights group long since extinct. Because of his former ties to the three Fs, Albany private detective Donald Strachey is hired to learn what they want, end any threats, and save J-Bird¿s image, which is more important than his life. Donald manages to locate two former members, but both deny any involvement nor accept any of their middle-aged colleagues harassing anyone. However, the attacks escalate until J-Bird¿s gay bashing sidekick is kidnapped. With the help of a former three F member, farmer Thad Diefendorfer, Donald tries to rescue the victim. Fans of gay mysteries will enjoy the sharp digs at politicians and radio jocks that used and use the homosexual community to further personal ambitions. The mystery is secondary to the jabs and hooks that Richard Stevenson throws at the bashers with their divide and conquer philosophy. Readers who want a strong investigative tale need to look elsewhere, but those in the audience who relish a series of left right humorous combos will want to read TONGUE TIED because Mr. Stevenson is anything but that with this amusing tale. Harriet Klausner

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