"Killer Weed" is not just an engaging mystery, it's also a fun and fascinating look back at San Francisco's storied 1960s, not to mention a primer on marijuana — both as an industry and a boon to people's health and spirit.
Written by San Francisco author Michael Castleman, a baby boomer and regular marijuana user for decades, the book is the latest in a series featuring veteran San Francisco journalist Ed Rosenberg.
Here, Rosenberg and his publicist wife, Julie, have been suffering the effects of today's bad economy. He has been downsized out of his newspaper staff writer position and is freelancing to pay the bills.
At the book's outset, he's offered a gig with a potentially big payoff. High-tech tycoon Gene Simons, underwriting a "San Francisco in the 1960s" museum exhibit, asks him to supply the written content. Rosenberg also could get a big bonus if he digs up another piece of information: Simons' birth name. The fellow's mother, Jackie, a drug dealer in the 1960s, was murdered; he was adopted and never knew the name she gave him.
Jackie also happened to be part of a gang that included Dave Kirsch, a modern-day San Francisco mayoral candidate running on platform to legalize marijuana, whose shooting on the first page of "Killer Weed" sets the plot in action.
As in many mystery novels, Rosenberg's detective skills rival, if not surpass, those of the professionals. His research for the exhibit and quest to find the man's real name conveniently dovetail with the cops' investigation of Kirsch's murder.
In his journey, Rosenberg meets and assesses many possible suspects: Kirsch's wife; Kirsch's mistress and her husband; and Kirsch's business (and marijuana dealing) partners, many of whom he associated with since the pivotal 1960s.
With a natural ease, Castleman offers authentic details about the era that go beyond flower-power stereotypes, and he nicely works mentions of real San Francisco locations and celebrities into the story — Joan Baez, Bill Graham, Wavy Gravy.
His comprehensive descriptions of the marijuana trade, and changes it has gone through, also are enlightening. His take on the state of journalism (Rosenberg's friends also are down-on-their-luck reporters and editors) wonderfully rings true.
A little less convincing is Castleman/Rosenberg's cheerleading for marijuana. A scene in which Rosenberg's elementary school-age daughter gets kicked out of class for ridiculing her drug abuse-prevention lesson as it pertains to marijuana is a little heavy-handed, as is pot-using Rosenberg's discomfort with his wife's alcohol intake.
Nonetheless, "Killer Weed" is a fun, Bay Area-set story that's an easy, breezy read about a pivotal time in The City's history and how the people who went through it grew up.
BOOK REVIEWKiller Weed
Written by Michael Castleman
Published by MP Publishing
Note: Castleman appears at 7 p.m. Friday at Books, Inc., 601 Van Ness Ave., S.F., as well as other local bookstores this week.