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Roy Chaney
Flip Your Wig
Roy Chaney, author
If you're going to be murdered in San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair… San Francisco. August 1966. The Beatles haven't arrived yet to play their show at Candlestick Park, but Inspectors Henry Nash and Ross Belcher of the San Francisco Police Department's Homicide Detail already have their hands full with Beatlemania, or Beatle psychosis. Flip Your Wig tells the story of Inspectors Nash and Belcher as they attempt to unravel the chain of violent deaths that begins with a young musician found dead in a Mission District flophouse, a Beatle-themed Halloween mask stuck to his face with dried blood. When a bloody skirmish in Golden Gate Park threatens to shut the fog-bound city down, Inspectors Nash and Belcher find themselves up to their metaphorical Beatle wigs in murder. Flip Your Wig is a story of people living in prisons of their own design, through the chiaroscuro lens of the noir novel, and yet Flip Your Wig displays the robust creative spirit that made the Sixties counterculture interesting in the first place.
Hardboiled San Francisco detectives of an earlier era come up against the counterculture in this ‘60s-set procedural that's both gritty and amusing. Inspectors Belcher and Nash investigate a bizarrely murdered man as the Beatles are about to arrive in town. Investigations eventually lead to a seedy club, the Kimono à Go-Go, whose owner is the eccentric Jasper Rollo. Journalist Tina Gone knew the dead man, Danilo Gomez, whose band was going to be an opening act for the moptops—and Rollo might be bootlegging Beatles recordings. And even as the police get deeper into the confusing 1960s milieu, a tragedy from World War II begins to play out.

Chaney, who has worked as a journalist, does a marvelous job of turning his reporter's eye onto a changing time: a witness tries to explain who the Beatles are to the inspectors and suggests the officers read the fan magazines. “The Chief canceled our subscriptions,” said Belcher. Chaney reveals a gift for sharp descriptions, summarizing Malibu as the place where the Hollywood elite go for "naughty weekends, booze and pill-popping and free love" as a "respite from weekdays of booze and pill-popping and free love." The story encompasses many twists, and some of the subplots don't always connect neatly, but the profile of San Francisco in a fractious era always comes through with persuasive clarity.

Among the best of the sharply defined side characters is Gone, who tried to write a Kerouac-like novel on the "dharma spectrum." Her talk both confuses and entices Nash, who begins falling for her in a poignant romance. Nash himself also grows, finding himself increasingly torn between his role as a policeman and the changes roiling his city. Although the book is not about the Beatles, their spirits hover over the Bay as harbingers of change, though Chaney still finds room in the fog for the older spirits of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade.

Takeaway: Hardboiled detectives face murder and an ascendent counterculture on the eve of a Beatles concert.

Great for fans of: San Francisco Noir, John Lescroart.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-