A hippie commune has invaded Black River Falls. While the majority of the townspeople believe that the bohemians have the right to stay—despite how bizarre some of their ways can seem—as always, there is a minority that constantly accuses them of everything from criminal activities to Satanism. As usual, lawyer and private investigator Sam McCain finds himself in the middle of the controversy, especially when the teenage daughter of Paul Mainwaring, one of the town’s wealthiest men, is found murdered in the commune’s barn. A deeply troubled young man (and Vietnam vet) named Neil Cameron is immediately charged with the crime, but Sam has serious doubts.
In this lively and poignant new novel, Ed Gorman offers readers his richest portrait yet about Black River Falls and its people.
About the Author
Ed Gorman is the beloved author of dozens of mystery novels, including the New York Times bestselling Frankenstein, which he co-wrote with Dean Koontz. His Sam McCain series includes Fools Rush In, The Day the Music Died, Ticket to Ride, and many others. He has received the Shamus Award, the Spur Award, and the International Fiction Writers Award. He lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Read an Excerpt
Bad Moon Rising
By Ed Gorman
Pegasus Books LLCCopyright © 2011 Ed Gorman
All rights reserved.
"I am just way too groovy for this scene, man."
If you were a teenager saying "groovy" you could get away with it. If you were a thirty-four-year-old Buick dealer all gussied up in purple silk bell-bottoms, a red silk shirt, and a gold headband, all you were was one more drunk at a costume party where everybody was dressed up as hippies. Or their idea of hippies, anyway.
"That's you all right, Carleton," I said. "Just way too groovy."
Wendy Bennett gave me a sharp elbow, not happy with the tone of my voice as the six-two Carleton Todd swayed over us, spilling his drink all over his hand. These were her people, not mine. Wendy Bennett came from one of the most prominent families in Black River Falls. Occasionally she wanted to see some of the friends she'd known from her country club days. Some of them I liked and surprised myself by wanting to see again. They were ruining my old theory that all wealthy people were bad. It just isn't that simple, dammit.
"Don't worry about ol' Carleton," Carleton said, his eyes fixing on Wendy's small, elegant breasts. We both wore tie-dyed T-shirts and jeans, our only concession to costume. "I'm used to his insults. I was just in the TV room watchin' the Chicago cops beat up the hippies. Your boyfriend here called me a couple of names in there." He opened his mouth to smile. Drool trickled over his lower lip. "But I called him names right back. If I was a cop I'd club every hippie I saw."
"Carleton, you're a jackass," Wendy said, steering me away before I could say something even nastier.
Don Trumbull's mansion sat on a hill in what had been forest, a bold invention of native stone, floor-to-ceiling windows, and three different verandas. At night the windows could be seen for half a mile. Now, like people in a play of silhouettes, human shapes filled the glass lengths, many of them wobbly with liquor.
"I'm proud of you."
We were on one of the flagstone verandas, the one that loomed over the downslope to the river. Moonlight glittered on the water and stars served as a backdrop to the pines that staggered up the steep incline of the far hills.
Men with Rotarian eyes drifted by, slightly drunk and silly in Nehru jackets. I wondered if they hated costume parties as much as I did. Tonight's fashions were dictated by all the slick magazine spreads about hippies, the problem being that the spreads featured Madison Avenue hippies. Collars so wide and droopy they looked like elephant ears; medallions that would have suited Roman soldiers; and of course fringed leather vests for both men and women.
The hippies I knew really did live back to nature; dungarees for boys and girls alike and nary a Neiman Marcus item among them. The musical Hair had become a hit signifying the sexual revolution that people talked about with disdain or envy. There were whispers that the revolution had inspired more than a few people here. Why leave sexual freedom to just the kids? The more we became a bedroom community for Cedar Rapids, the more modern parts of the populace became.
We sat on the edge of the flat stone railing and let the breeze have its way with us. "I always wanted to be in a Disney movie. Did I ever tell you that?"
"No, not that I can remember." The Disney remark signified that she'd reached her limit for the evening. She generally got wistful then and I felt terribly protective of her.
"Not to be Cinderella or anything like that. But to be one of the animals that are always in the forest. They always seem so happy."
I was too much of a gentleman to remind her of Bambi's fate.
"No regrets. No fears. Just grateful to be alive and enjoying nature all day long." Then she giggled. "God, I just remembered what I said to Carleton."
"I'm sure he'll remind you."
"He's really not so bad."
"If you say so."
"C'mon, Sam, it's not that bad, is it? You like some of these people."
"Yeah, I actually do. But most of them aren't here tonight."
"It's summer. A lot of them are on vacation."
She yawned and tilted her perfect head back. When we went to high school together her name was Wendy McKay. Because of the Mc in her name and the Mc in mine we sat together in homeroom where, eventually, she was forced to talk to me. She's admitted now that proximity alone had forced her to converse. We were social unequals. She was from a prominent family whose gene pool had endowed her with shining blonde hair, green eyes, and a body that was frequently imagined when teenage boys decided to seek the shadows for some small-town self-abuse.
She married into the Bennett family believing that her husband loved her. Unfortunately, as she learned all too soon, he'd still been in love with a girl he'd known all his life. After he was killed fighting in Vietnam, it all became moot.
As we had both passed thirty, we didn't try to delude ourselves. She'd gone through a period of sleeping around and drinking too much. She'd ended up spending a lot of money on a shrink in Iowa City. I'd come close to being married three times. We wanted to be married; we even wanted to have a baby or two. But unlike me, Wendy wanted to go slow. So I kept my apartment at Mrs. Goldman's even though I spent most of my nights at her house, shocking numerous guardians of local morality.
"Am I drunk? I can't tell."
"Damn. Don't let me do anything stupid."
"Why don't we make a pass through the house once more and then head home?"
I stood up and took her hand. She came up into my arms and we spent several minutes making out like eleventh-graders. I opened one eye and saw over her shoulder the couple who had appeared unheard on the veranda. I smiled at them as I eased out of the embrace. They didn't smile back.
"It doesn't do you any good to watch the tapes of those cops beating up the hippies," Wendy said as we passed through the open French doors and went back inside where three young musicians with long hair were playing guitars and singing Beatles songs. Somebody somewhere was smoking pot. As a lawyer and a private investigator for Judge Whitney, I had the duty to find and arrest this person. I decided to put it off for a few months. "You just get depressed, Sam." She didn't sound as drunk as either of us thought she was.
As we mixed with the throng inside, she said, "Remember, don't watch those tapes again. You get too worked up." Then she hiccupped.
The networks were running tapes of this afternoon over and over again, the ones of Chicago cops clubbing protestors. The protestors weren't exactly innocent. They screamed "Pigs!" constantly; some threw things and a few challenged the cops by running right up to them and jostling them. There were no heroes. But since the cops were sworn to uphold the law it was their burden to control not only the crowd but themselves. Dozens of kids could be seen with blood streaming down their faces. Some lay unmoving on the pavement like the wounded or dead in a war. In the TV room of this mansion several men stood watching the tapes, their hands gripping their drinks the way they would grip grenades. When I'd been in there, about a third of the men were against what the cops were doing. The rest wanted the cops to inflict maximum injury. One man said, "Just kill the bastards and get it over with."
For the next twenty minutes we circulated among the faux hippies. Most of the people we said good-bye to were cordial and even amusing, aware of the irony of middle-aged hippiedom. One man, a school board member I'd disagreed with on a few fiery occasions, even patted me on the shoulder and told me he agreed with me about the Chicago cops. "No excuse for what they're doing. I would've said something in the TV room but I didn't want to get my head taken off." I probably wouldn't be as fiery next time.
For a roomful of people dressed as hippies, most of the conversations sounded pretty square. The men discussed business; the women discussed domestic life and gossiped a bit. While Wendy excused herself to go to the bathroom—still hiccupping—I let a drunken city councilman tell me that he was going to start sending me all his personal legal business because "The big shots want too much money. You have any idea what they charge an hour?" Then, weaving around while he stood in place, he raised his drink, aimed vaguely for his face, and said, the glass a few inches from his lips, "You don't have the greatest reputation, but for the kind of stuff I'll be sendin' you it doesn't matter."
Wendy reappeared and rescued me. Her hiccups were gone. She looked around the largest of the rooms and said, "I wish there were more people from our class here."
"They aren't successful enough to be here. I only got in because you brought me."
"You're like my gigolo." She laughed, but a certain dull glaze remained in her eyes. Where liquor was concerned she was the ultimate cheap date. A couple of drinks and she was at least semi-plastered.
"Let's try the front steps this time," I said.
I grabbed a cup of coffee for Wendy. We sat on the front steps of the enormous house, enjoying the midwestern night. Trumbull, the man who owned it, was the director of four steel plants. His wife was from here, so they bought this place, turned it into a masterpiece, and lived in it during the warm months. Florida was their home when the cold weather came. The drive that curved around the place was crowded with cars. We'd be long gone by the time most of them left, so we wouldn't have any trouble getting out. But many people well into their cups were going to have some frustrating moments if they all tried to leave at once.
Wendy caught a firefly. She cupped it in her hand and said, "Hello, little fellow."
"How do you know it's a fellow?"
"Take a look."
In the shadow of her hand a golden-green light flickered on and off. "Yep, it's a fella all right."
She laughed and let him go. After her head was on my shoulder she said, "I know these aren't your kind of people, Sam. But remember, your kind of people aren't my kind of people, either."
"I thought you liked Kenny."
"I don't mean Kenny. I mean your clients. Some of them are really criminals. I mean bad people."
The front door opened behind us. Our haven had been invaded again. We could have kept on talking but we were self-conscious now. I got up and helped Wendy to her feet.
"Hope we didn't chase you off," a woman's voice said from the shadows.
"No. We were leaving anyway."
When we were out of earshot, Wendy said, "Very nice, Sam. You're really learning social skills."
"You mean instead of saying, 'Look, you sorry bastard, you ruined our whole evening.'?"
"Exactly." She clung to my arm woozily and kissed my cheek. "See, isn't it fun being polite to people you hate?"
"Look who's talking."
As we drew closer to my car, I slid my arm around her shoulders. We had our battles, but most of the time there was peace, something I'd never had much of in my past affairs. I'd started to believe what I'd heard a TV pop psychologist say, that some people liked agitation in their relationships. I'd just always assumed that was the way it had to be. But Wendy showed me how wrong I'd been.
Somebody called my name twice. I turned around and shouted back.
"There's a phone call for you, Sam," the female voice said.
I yelled my thanks.
"A client," Wendy said.
"Poor old Sam."
"Poor old Wendy."
"I don't mind. Right now, relaxing at home sounds better than this anyway."
A woman named Barbara Thomas was waiting for us on the porch. She was another one who'd skimped on costuming herself. A very flattering pair of black bell-bottoms and a white flowing blouse. She'd been in our high school class and had married a lawyer. She was one of those girls who'd ignited many a speculative sexual conversation among boys. She'd always seemed aware of just how stupid we all were.
"Hi, Barb. How're your twins?"
"Exhausting but beautiful, thanks. There's a phone in the den, Sam."
They stayed on the porch while I worked my way through the costumed revelers. The den was as big as Wendy's living room and outfitted with enough electronic gear to make me suspect that the owner of the house might be in touch with Mars. He was some kind of short-wave enthusiast. Four different kinds of radios and three different gray steel boxes that made tiny chirping sounds contrasted with the traditional leather furnishings.
I picked up the phone. "Sam McCain."
"Sam. It's Richard Donovan."
"You really needed to call me here, Richard?"
"Look, we've got a real problem out here."
Donovan was the leader of the commune. He brought rules and regs to the otherwise disorganized life out there. When one of his people got in trouble in town—usually being harassed for no reason by one of police chief Cliffie Sykes's hotshots—Donovan was the one who called me.
"And it can't wait until morning?"
"No." Then: "Look, I'm not stoned or anything and I'm telling you, you need to get out here right away."
The tension in his voice told me far more than his words. "You're not telling me anything, Richard."
"Not on the phone. We've had run-ins with the feds before. They may be tapping our phone."
Paranoia was as rampant as VD among the hippies these days. The troubling thing was that some of it was justified.
"I'll be out as soon as I can."
"Thanks, Sam. Sorry I had to bother you."
If the trouble was as serious as it sounded, and if I got involved in it, I would certainly hear from my boss. Though my law practice was finally starting to make reasonable money, my job as private investigator for the judge was still half my income. And Judge Whitney, along with many other people in town (including a couple who kept writing letters about me in the local newspaper), didn't like the idea that I was representing the people at the commune. They wanted the commune and its hirsute folks to move to a different county. Or maybe, if God was smiling that day, out of the state. Judge Whitney didn't believe any of the ridiculous rumors about them—they were satanic and were summoning up the old bastard himself to turn the town into flame and horror being my favorite—but they did violate her notion of propriety, which had come to her down generations of rich snobs who felt that all "little people" were suspicious, period.
I had the feeling that whatever Richard had waiting for me wasn't going to change the minds of either the judge or the two people who kept writing letters about me.
On the porch, Wendy and Barb were smiling. I remembered Wendy telling me that Barb was one friend who hadn't deserted her after her husband died in Vietnam, when she took up the bottle and inhabited a lot of beds that did her no good at all. Both women had warm girly laughs and the sound was sweet on the air, overwhelming the sitar music from inside. Oh, yes, somebody was playing sitar music now. I realize that not liking sitar music marks one as a boor and a likely warmonger and maybe even satanic, but I can't help it. Sitar music should only be played for deaf people.
"Oh, oh," Wendy said.
Barb smiled at me. "Wendy said you'd look a certain way if you were going to go see a client and dump her at home."
"'Dump,'" I said, "is a pretty harsh word."
"How about push me out of the car at a high rate of speed?"
They reverted to their girly laughter, leaning together in that immortal conspiratorial way women have of letting men know that they are hopelessly stupid. I could imagine them at twelve, merrily deflating the ego of every boy who passed by.
"I promise not to go over ninety," I said, lamely continuing the joke.
"Well, I'll have to let you two finish this," Barb said, as if I hadn't spoken. "My husband's in watching TV, and I'd better get in there before he loses all his clients. He made the mistake of telling Walton from the brokerage that if he was ten years younger, he'd probably be a hippie himself. Walton didn't think that was funny. Then they started arguing about the cops beating up all those kids. You know how Walton is. He thought Ike was a Communist. And he was serious."
Wendy slumped against me as soon as Barbara got inside. "Whew. It just caught up with me. One minute I was sober and the next minute I was—"
"Again. That's the weird thing. I kind of sobered up but now—"
"Let's get going. I know this curve where I'm going to push you out. It'll be fun."
"Yeah, well, the first thing you'll have to do is help me to the car. I'm really dizzy. All that drinking I used to do. I must be out of practice."
She wasn't kidding. I had to half carry her to the car.
Excerpted from Bad Moon Rising by Ed Gorman. Copyright © 2011 Ed Gorman. Excerpted by permission of Pegasus Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Set in the 60's, this book offers a look back at an underused time period. The story line is interesting and keeps you guessing until the end. I hope it is the start of a series. I would definitely read more by this author.
Such a great fun series with interesting characters although my favorite judge just puts in a token appearance in this one. Townspeople clash with the hippies in the 60's, as do the leading imperious churchman of the town. McCain gets involved when there is a murder of a local whose body is found on the commune.
It's 1968 in this crime novel. Sam McCain is a lawyer that moonlights as a PI to pick up some extra cash. He's called out to a hippie commune outside Black River Falls, Iowa by the leader, Richard Donovan, for a matter he couldn't talk about over the phone. Sam had represented the commune a number of times in court(the sheriff was a bigot in addition to being incompetent and just plain stupid; not mention a nemesis of Sam's). He's shown a body in the barn, a young woman, the daughter of one of the richest men in town and he knows a s**t storm will hit the commune over this one. Everyone is sure who the killer is, Neil Cameron,a young man who had fallen for the young woman, a tease among the young folk of the town, and been rebuffed. A Viet Nam vet who came back a broken man over something that happened over there. Sam doesn't believe he did it, which puts him in the middle of opposing sides, as usual, as he continues to investigate the killing, and the others that come, much to the displeasure of the father, the sheriff, the folks who hate the commune(one completely nutty local radio preacher comes to mind). Author Ed Gorman writes in an engaging style and has the period details correct. I was just growing up at the time the novel was set and remember a lot of this stuff well. Even though I lived in a different part of the country, some fashions are universal. It was all familiar. which gives one a feeling of being there, just off stage, observing the action. Loved it..
The audio version is just long enough. Gorman is a reliably good author.