Michael Castleman’s latest Ed Rosenberg mystery flashes back from present-day to 1960s San Francisco. But readers hoping for a kaleidoscopic ride through a Summer of Love montage will likely be disappointed: There aren't a lot of blissed-out moments in Killer Weed. Rosenberg, who has just recently lost his gig writing for the San Francisco Foghorn, is struggling to make ends meet. A dot-com impresario named Gene Simons at least offers him a lifeline: a freelance opportunity to hash over the history of the Haight-Ashbury and interview aging scenesters for a San Francisco Museum exhibit that Simons is underwriting. The billionaire is also looking for information about his mother, a small-time dealer who died when he was just a child. Simons has never known his birth name, and he’s offered Ed a sizable bonus to discover it.
Ed’s wife, Julie, also recently laid off by the newspaper, lands a job with the mayoral campaign of local legend Dave Kirsch, a onetime dealer and now libertarian politician and marijuana advocate. When Kirsch is killed, Ed’s research turns up evidence that implicates Kirsch’s old pot-business partners. Using the museum exhibit as a cover, Ed seeks them out and starts asking some dangerous questions. Turns out, not everybody wants to reminisce about the ’60s.
Adding to the downer of a trip, Castleman's domestic scenes at the Rosenberg house seem stilted and preachy. Ed, a daily sativa smoker himself, is getting paranoid about his wife’s wine consumption and seemingly not a chapter goes by when he’s not, ahem, whining about it. Meanwhile, he's helping his daughter write a report on why her school's drug policy is "wrong about marijuana." But Castleman’s novel is much more enjoyable when it focuses on stories of the Haight-Ashbury and Ed’s research trips around the Bay Area. And the economic results of Ed's research for Simons should make the Rosenberg family situation a little happier the next time around.