Fresh Meat: Ed Gorman’s Bad Moon Rising

Bad Moon Rising by Ed Gorman, a Sam McCain Mystery
Bad Moon Rising by Ed Gorman, a Sam McCain Mystery
Ten or more years ago, I came across the first book in the Sam McCain series written by an already favorite author of mine, Ed Gorman. The Day The Music Died, is set in 1958 and the title  refers to the snowy plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper just a few hours after the fictional Sam drove a long way to see what turned out to be their final show. Sam’s home, Black River Falls, is small town Iowa and reflects an Ozzie and Harriet kind of life, but just after hearing about the plane crash, Sam discovers what may be a murder-suicide. And the investigation is on! I was immediately captivated and have followed Sam and Black River Falls in each succeeding novel.

Book nine of the series, Bad Moon Rising, is set in 1968, the most tumultuous year of that most turbulent decade, The Sixties. We meet Sam at a party where upper class, middle-aged guests trying to adopt the hippy look, unsuccessfully in most cases, are watching the Chicago riots on television and locked in disagreement as to whether or not the cops should just kill the protesters and be done with it. Naturally, the hippie commune that has sprung up just outside Black River Falls has a lot to do with the town’s mixed feelings.

I’ll let Sam explain it to you:

In the summer of 1968, the good Reverend Cartwright, last seen setting himself on fire while attempting to burn a huge pile of Beatles records, purchased six billboards around town to make sure that believers and nonbelievers alike got the message that Jesus Christ had not been like hippies during his time on earth.

Three weeks ago an eighty-six year old woman had written the local newspaper to defend our resident hippies. She said that given how the adults had screwed up the world there just might be a chance that these young people had some ideas worth listening to. Further—and you can imagine the bulging crazed eyes of the good reverend as he read this—further, as a lifelong Christian she was pretty sure that if Jesus Christ walked the earth today he would walk it as a hippie. Not, I assumed, in Birkenstocks, but you get the idea.

And in a conversation:

[Sam’s favorite cop, Mike Potter] “The hippies just seem to agitate a lot of people.”

[Sam] “And you know why that is, don’t you?”

“The long hair?”

“All the sex. Everybody secretly wants to have as much sex as these kids have.”

And when the rebellious daughter of one of the town’s most prominent citizens is found stabbed to death in a barn on the commune property, Sam is not satisfied with Police Chief Cliffie’s swift determination that a Vietnam Vet who has disappeared from the commune is responsible. Sam persists in investigating every possible angle, even while trying to juggle his law practice, his increasingly intimate relationship with Wendy Bennett, and his internal certainty that his National Guard unit will be called up in the near future. Gorman manages to collapse every chaotic problem that America faced in 1968 into one tight, small-town story. While unwinding a complex mystery, Sam McCain blends pathos and humor with his edgy social commentary and makes us all take a long look at ourselves back when. So grab a copy of Bad Moon Rising and meet the folks of Black River Falls. You don’t need to read the Sam McCain books in any particular order, but once you read one, I guarantee you’ll want to read them all.

According to Terrie, writing short mystery fiction is nearly as much fun as hanging out with any or all of her seven grandchildren. She is editor of the recently released Sisters in Crime New York/TriState chapter anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices, and blogs at Women of Mystery


  1. Deborah Lacy

    Thanks Terrie. That’s high praise. I haven’t read any of his books. You say we don’t have to read them in any particular order, but do you think I should start with this one?

  2. Terrie Farley Moran

    You can certainly start with any of the Sam McCain books and read it as a stand alone, but if you can get your hands on “The Day the Music Died,” that’s where you meet a younger, less sure Sam. Interesting contrast to 1968 Sam.

Comments are closed.

The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.