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Back to the '60s

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

WESTFORD When you meet David Daniel, a friendly man with gray hair and pale blue eyes, a slight uneasiness sets in. With his inquisitive look and curious manner, you feel you are being studied.

It's not paranoia; the Westford writer tells you straight out you could end up in his next book.

"Some characters are cameos of people I know, others are children of my own imagination. You might be in one of them," he said.

And you might not even know it. Daniel picks up snippets for characters here and there, at Starbucks or in line at the bank. This time, he took his characters to the West Coast in his new book White Rabbit.

Released this month by St. Martin's Press, White Rabbit is a murder mystery set in San Francisco during the Summer of Love. The main character, police inspector John Sparrow, falls for a female journalist while trying to solve a string of flower children murders in Haight-Ashbury.

In preparation for White Rabbit, Daniel dug up his old Crosby, Stills and Nash records and leafed through picture books on Woodstock and the '60s. Conjuring up the feeling that was in the air when the Vietnam War broke out and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band first hit the streets was his motive.

The book is filled with '60s references like "Keep on truckin'" and "Turn on, tune in, drop out," but Daniel, who was a 20-year-old hippie living in Boston at the time the story takes place, didn't write the book to pine for the old days.

"It's not a nostalgia binge. It speaks to the dark side of the 1960s," he said. "I think a lot of people can relate to my '60s."

Filled with marijuana, mystery and music, White Rabbit speaks to aging flower children and would-be '60s radicals, but it will also appeal to crime fiction fans.

Writing about the West Coast is a departure for the Daniel, whose past mysteries have taken place in Lowell, centered on private investigator Alex Rasmussen. In the past 25 years he's dedicated to writing, this is the book he always wanted to write.

"If I was going to write about the '60s it had to be about California. It was a period of time that comes along every so often, like the 1920s, that has so much energy and California was sort of the flashpoint," said Daniel, who teaches at UMass and Middlesex Community College in Lowell.

Anyone who is a fan of '60s music will get a kick out of White Rabbit, the title taken from a Jefferson Airplane song. Before each section is a quote from '60s rock 'n' rollers like The Doors and Bob Dylan and the book is filled with Timothy Leary-like icons and lingo such as "Keep on truckin'."

"Such great music came out that year and everyone would gather around to hear the new Beatles or new Dylan. Today it seems that music is not a communal experience," he said.

Filled with peacenik rallies and "Stop the War" salvos, White Rabbit could be seen as a timely read. But to Daniel, the '60s can never be duplicated.

"Before, people thought you could live in peace and harmony; people are more cynical now. What's missing is a certain naive spirit," he said.