A journalist investigates the murder of a rock promoter and its connection to a sixties rock band. Sandy Blair is a novelist in his mid-thirties living in New York city in the late eighties. He is reasonably successful and lives with his realtor girlfriend. But once upon a time Sandy was a counterculture reporter for an alternative newspaper called the Hedgehog (known as Da Hog).
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When a once famous record producer named James Lynch is brutally murdered, tied to his desk and with his heart cut out, Sandy's old boss at the Hog calls him to do a piece on the murder. The Hog is now a mainstream pop culture paper owned by a large publisher, and Sandy refuses at first due to old grudges. But his novel is stuck and he is in a rut edging on midlife crisis so he ends up taking the gig, partly as an excuse to revisit old times. He plans an in-depth series of articles about the generation of rockers and activists that came up in the sixties and seventies.
Lynch was a promoter for several radical rock and roll groups, including superstars The Nazgul, who last played in 1973 in West Mesa, New Mexico. That concert ended tragically when a sniper shot the lead singer, Hobbins. The Nazgul's music was full of Tolkien and occult references, and their last great song, which they never managed to play at West Mesa is a fifteen minute epic known as the Armageddon/Ressurection Rag.
Sandy decides to drive to the crime scene so he can stop along the way to visit with old friends for the story. He learns that the murderer displayed Lynch's body on the promotional poster for the West Mesa concert, and the last album by the Nazgul was on the record player on repeat, suggesting a connection between the band and the murder. He later realizes the date of the murder was also the anniversary of the deadly concert.
He visits each of the three surviving band members in turn. Starting with the drummer, Gopher John, who now runs a bar and music venue called the Gopher Hole. They go to diner, and while they are absent someone sets a fire in the Gopher Hole and locks the emergency exit. Several people die in the fire and Sandy becomes convinced it is connected to Lynch's murder.
The other two band members both mention that a man named Edan Morse had been trying to get them to play a new tour, but Lynch had refused to consider it. Sandy looks into Morse but can't find any solid information on the man aside from vague hints that he may be connected to shady dealings.
He visits Maggie, an old flame and a bit of a hippie and the rekindle their old passions for one night. Then he visits Bambi, who has dropped out of society and is living in a remote commune, she has connections to the old underground and helps put him in touch with Edan Morse, who it turns out was connected to a revolutionary group prone to acts of violence during the sixties and seventies, known as the American Liberation Front, or the Alfies.
He visits Morse, who is now by all appearances a respectable business man. Morse knows who Sandy is from the old days and claims not to have had anything to do with Lynch or the Gopher Hole, but he does admit to trying to get the Nazgul back together. He reveals to Sandy that he believes reuniting the band and staging a new concert is necessary to bring about a new revolution, and he hints at occult powers. And finally he reveals his ace in the hole; a new young lead singer who looks almost exactly like deceased Nazgul frontman Pat Hobbins, thanks in part to acting lessons and plastic surgery.
After meeting the Hobbins clone, whose real name is Larry Richmond, Sandy spends a night with Morse's second in command, a beautiful and mysterious woman named Ananda. Sandy is invited to join the cause, but his dreams are uneasy and he feels confused and leaves.
He goes back to New York to find his agent and his girlfriend have both dumped him, and he spends a couple of months in a state of depression. He snaps out of it when he finds out the Nazgul have reunited and are planning a concert tour. He gets back in contact with Morse, who hires him as their PR flack.
Sandy is worried at first, seeing the band play, since the three original band members are out of practice and older and the new Hobbins is simple not very good despite the uncanny resemblance. Ananda and Morse assure him that it will all come together in the end.
The start of the tour is rocky, with audiences underwhelmed by the new material and the old songs falling flat under the new lead singer's middling voice and lack of charisma. But soon something strange happens while they are playing a song from the final West Mesa set. On the last song the new kid seems to transform momentarily, looking and sounding exactly like the original Hobbins. The audience goes nuts but Sandy feels uncomfortable and later notices that the kid doesn't seem to have a memory of what happened.
As the concerts go on these episodes get longer, two songs, then three, all leading up to the last concert of the tour which will take place in West Mesa again, on the anniversary of the original tragedy. Morse is trying to use the music in some sort of occult ceremony to bring about Armageddon. Sandy is increasingly unsure whether this is a good thing or a bad one, tempted by a true revolution to make up for the fizzling out of the radical sixties but afraid that he is on the wrong side in of a final battle. The other band members have noticed what's going on with their lead singer, but each has his own motivations for continuing on.
The audiences get bigger and more violent, and the authorities try to cancel the last concert but Morse prevents it and declares it will be free. The resulting mass of people camps out for days ahead and numbers over a hundred thousand, Sandy starts to worry there will be a blood sacrifice and a resulting riot with massive casualties to fuel the supernatural goings on.
His doubts increase as the day approaches, and he finally confronts Ananda after an incident makes him realize it is she rather than Morse who is the motivating force behind most of what is happening. She admits to killing Lynch and there's a confrontation in which she shoots Morse and drugs Sandy. He wakes up alone on the day of the concert, and finding a rifle he sneaks it onto the grounds hoping to prevent the ritual from being completed. He climbs a tower and gets ready to shoot the lead singer, just like at West Mesa, in order to stop things. But eventually his head clears and he realizes this was the reason Morse and Ananda hired him all along, to be the shooter.
He puts the gun down and Ananda confronts him, they fight and she wrests the gun from him. But when she shoots the bullet doesn't seem to affect Hobbins, either grazing or missing him, or simple not working because she is not the right shooter. Sandy watches the possessed Hobbins complete the concert the way it should have happened all those years ago and the concert ends peacefully.
The book ends a few months later, after Sandy has returned to New York and written a best selling book about his experiences and the Nazgul reunion. He and his old friends have gotten together for a celebration, and they listen to the new Nazgul album. The band has now added a couple of new members to play their new songs better and Larry Richmond is no longer the lead singer, playing guitar instead. He has stopped channeling Hobbins.
Opinion about the main character:
Sandy is basically a bit wishy washy, once things get underway and you find out the stakes and the horrible murders and so on it's hard to understand why he sticks with the bad guys.