Jack Penn returns from two tours in Vietnam to find that his best friend and former bandmate, Tommy, has fallen from a window to his death. Jack refuses to believe that Tommy would kill himself, especially as his band, Currant, was poised for success. He takes Tommy’s cryptic lyrics (“An’ now the man, the man be after me / Seekin’ to shut my story down”) as an indication that someone may have been after him, and that his fall might actually have been a murder. Joined by his former girlfriend, Pam, and aspiring reporter Ben, Jack traces each lyrical reference in the hope of finding who’s responsible. The search takes them from the Mississippi Delta to San Francisco and encompasses many major figures and events of the late-’60s counterculture. Jack and Pam confront Tommy’s former bandmates at Woodstock and Altamont, get clues from author Hunter S. Thompson and rocker Lou Reed, and even manage to catch the moon landing live on TV. As they follow each lead, they’re drawn deeper into not only the music world, but also the criminal underworld, as they run afoul of mobsters and drug distributors. Although any of these elements may threaten readers’ suspension of disbelief, they’ll just as likely please those interested in rock ’n’ roll culture or the late ’60s in general. Mears is careful not to idealize the era, however. Jack, for example, is a man equally disillusioned by both the music world and his experience in Vietnam, and his cynical disposition and single-minded purpose drive the plot. That isn’t to say that Mears doesn’t indulge in some nostalgia; the story is rife with cultural references, but they don’t define the story and merely provide a backdrop for the action. That action drags in its final quarter, and the plot sometimes strains to encompass such a broad range of people and places. But in the end, Mears makes the story about Jack, whose hair-trigger temper and haunting memories make him an intriguing protagonist and keep the story moving.
A fun, light trip into the dark side of the ’60s.