Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Blast from the Past

Now that Blogger seems finally to be up and running again, let me note that January Magazine today posted a fond review of Ken Kuhlken’s new book, The Do-Re-Mi. As critic and Rap Sheet contributor Stephen Miller observes in the piece:
Ken Kuhlken first burst onto the crime fiction scene with The Loud Adios, which won the Private Eye Writers of America/St. Martin’s Press Award for Best First Private Eye novel for the year 1991. Set in 1943, it introduced private eye Tom Hickey and his family, and continued for two other books, The Venus Deal (1993) and The Angel Gang (1994). As the Hickey novels stretched into the 1950s it appeared that the thread had run itself out.

Tom Hickey is back, however, in Kuhlken’s latest,
The Do-Re-Mi. Set in the summer of 1972, Tom Hickey is now a supporting character to his son Clifford, a disaffected soon-to-be law student who drives north into the redwoods of Northern California to attend and play at a folk jamboree in the town of Evergreen, a tense place overrun by both hippies and a sadistic motorcycle gang known as The Cossacks.
These combustible plot dynamics naturally lead to murder, with Clifford being arrested and his adopted brother, Alvaro, accused of killing a deputy’s son. But that’s only the beginning of this family affair. “Faced with the pressures of trying to find the real murderer, locating Alvaro and navigating the centrifugal pressures of Evergreen’s natural antagonists--the hippies versus the bikers--Clifford Hickey eventually realizes he has to call in a professional,” Miller hints before dropping the big news: “And so, father Tom arrives with Clifford’s mother in tow.”

You can take in the whole review here.

I still haven’t read The Do-Re-Mi, but I look forward to doing so. I remember picking up a used, first-edition copy of The Loud Adios some years ago at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, and being impressed both by Kuhlken’s fairly subtle, World War II-era storytelling atmospherics and by his protagonist, a San Diego, California, gumshoe who’s become a military border guard and in that novel searches for the sister of a fellow enlistee, who’s disappeared into the raunchy wilds of Tijuana, Mexico. I somehow lost track of author Kuhlken after that; yet The Do-Re-Mi looks intriguing, not merely for its story, but also for its period setting.

I wasn’t born early enough to experience the Summer of Love, or the original Woodstock Festival, or the blissed-out, Flower Power antiwar protests of the late 1960s and early ’70s. (The closest I ever came to being a “flower child” was in college back in the late ’70s, when my friend Lisa Groening--yes, the real-life, younger sister of Simpsons cartoonist Matt Groening--stuck a daisy behind my ear before sending me away on my first solo trip to San Francisco, saying, in an echo of singer Scott McKenzie’s hippie anthem, “Don’t you know you’re supposed to wear some flowers in your hair?”) Nonetheless, I am drawn to that era, because of its parallels to our own times (George W. Bush as Richard M. Nixon, Iraq as Vietnam, the renewed attention to manned space travel, etc.), and because it ended what had been a long period of voter complacency and blind faith in the wisdom of American leaders, provoking more widespread public involvement and interest in politics.

As Miller remarks in his review of The Do-Re-Mi: “The forlorn wistfulness of those times permeates this work, almost as a fog that enshrouds the Northern California coastline.” Turn on, tune in, drop out of our present-day realities for 307 pages. Cool.

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