Dean Street December – Viva Las Vengeance: The Elvis Mysteries #3 by Daniel Klein

I love taking part in themed reading weeks and months whenever I can, and Liz is hosting this one (see here). Dean Street Press were reprint specialists, particularly mid 20th century women’s fiction from the decades and Golden Age crime – and those are not my usual fare. However, in 2022 they also reprinted a series of four novels only published in the early 2000s – The Elvis Mysteries by Daniel Klein. Yes, you did read that right, they feature Elvis Presley as an amateur detective.

Although the four novels run on from each other chronologically and one of the characters outside of Elvis’s entourage in particular who plays a large part in the first novel, is a minor part in subsequent ones being Elvis’s guiding voice of reason, the main crimes are separate, so there’s no need to read them in order, although certain peripheral storylines in the past will make more sense if you do.

To have the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll as your lead is an audacious move, but Klein has picked a particular period in Elvis’ life which could really fit this kind of distraction. Elvis is recently returned from Germany after his spell in the US Army, he’s missing his late mother Gladys, he doesn’t get to see his fiancée Miss Priscilla much, Graceland feels empty yet is always full of old friends and hangers-on. Incidentally, I reviewed Bethan Roberts’s novel Graceland about young Elvis and his mother here, and it takes us up to Gladys’s death and his imminent departure for Germany, worried that his career will disappear when he gets back. And yes, his career has yet to pick up, there are only the movies which he no longer enjoys really, so Elvis is at a loose end.

In the first book, Kill Me Tender, Elvis is compelled to investigate the deaths of some teenaged presidents of chapters of his fan club. In the second, Blue Suede Clues, Elvis is making a film with Ann Margaret when a stunt man dies under mysterious circumstances. I reviewed these first two for Shiny New Books – click HERE.

Which brings us to Viva Las Vengeance, set in 1964, and Elvis has gone to Vegas for a break, after a month of Priscilla raging at him over Christmas for his affair with Ann Margaret, before beginning his next film (which will be Roustabout). He and the gang (but no Colonel Tom – yet) are staying at the Sahara, where they went to the 2am cabaret featuring Howie Pickles, a comedian known for being cruel to his audience. His targets are a chalk and cheese couple, a skinny man and a ‘mammoth broad’ in Pickles’ words. When Pickle spots Elvis, he decides to change targets and walks over to their table…

“These guys are actually Elvis’s disciples. I mean that in the biblical sense, folks.” Pickles folded his stubby arms across his chest like a professor. “Think about it – Jesus said, ‘Love thy neighbor.’ And Elvis says, ‘Don’t be cruel.’ See what I’m talking about?”

The audience giggled tentatively, all eyes on Elvis. Elvis offered a brave smile. […]

“I’m not kidding, folks. The similarities are too close to be coincidental,” Pickles continued. “Like Jesus was the lamb of God, and Elvis wears mutton chops. See what I’m saying? And listen to this – Jesus lived in a state of grace in a Near Eastern land. And Elvis lives in Graceland in a near eastern state!”

The laughter was really rolling now, really picking up steam. But Elvis was finding it increasingly difficult to hang on to his smile.

“It goes on,” Pickles said. “Jesus walked on water. And in ‘Blue Hawaii,’ Elvis went surfing. Coincidence? I don’t think so.”

Howls of laughter. Elvis’s smile had completely evaporated.

“Think about it,” Pickles was saying. “The most important woman in Jesus’ life was born of Immaculate Conception. And the girl Elvis lives with goes to Immaculate Conception High School!”

Suddenly, Elvis was on his feet. The crowd went dead quiet. Pickles froze. Everyone was staring at Elvis.

“I’m a big fan of you, Mr Pickles,” Elvis said, looking warmly at the comedian. “That’s the God’s honest truth. And I like to think I can take a ribbing like anybody else. It’s just that stuff about, you know, my Lord and Savior. It don’t sit right, not with the way I was brought up.”

Apologies for the long quotation, but you need to see how Pickles built up his character assassination attempt. However, after the comedian’s slot ends, Elvis is treated to something all together more transcendental – a trancelike dance by a beautiful woman with a black panther, and her attention all seems to be directed Elvis’s way. Miss Shiva Ree’s gyrations sure took his mind off Howie Pickles.

However, when they wake up the next morning, they discover the large lady who was the foul-mouthed comedian’s first target dead on the roof of one of the wedding chapels. Pickles is ordered to take it easy by the hotel owner, having a customer die so obviously could be bad for business. But Pickles can’t restrain himself, when a second punter is found dead on another wedding chapel steeple, he’s off the show, as the Sahara’s audience haemorrhages with his ‘deadly’ gags. Is it rivalry between hotels and casinos? Chapels? Brothels? Or something else? The sherriff seems useless, so Elvis, with his strong sense of moral and social justice feels compelled to investigate. But he hasn’t reckoned with falling in love with Shiva, who lives out in the desert in a surprisingly drug-free commune, nor the attentions of some holy rollers who think Elvis is Jesus now…

It is to Klein’s favour that his Elvis comes across so authentically – at least to the version that we’re all familiar with – you can’t help but fall in love with him. The story is told with much humour, but has its poignant moments. It’s also surprisingly sexy without being lascivious in any way. Everything is squared away in just over 200 pages too. This third novel slightly lacked the full Elvis connection that the first two had, but it was still immensely enjoyable, and I shall continue on to read the final book in the series, Such Vicious Minds – what a title!

Source: Own copy. Daniel Klein, 2003, Dean Street Press paperback reprint 2022, 203pp.

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7 thoughts on “Dean Street December – Viva Las Vengeance: The Elvis Mysteries #3 by Daniel Klein

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      These books are a breath of fresh air!. Glad to hear DSP’s still going. They don’t appear to be publishing any new titles at the mo though after Rupert Heath’s death.

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