California Girl

( 21 )


The times they are a-changin’ . . .

The Orange County, California, that the Becker brothers knew as boys is no more—unrecognizably altered since the afternoon in 1954 when Nick, Clay, David, and Andy rumbled with the lowlife Vonns, while five-year-old Janelle Vonn watched from the sidelines. The new decade has brought about the end of the orange groves and the birth of suburban sprawl. It is the era of Johnson, hippies, John Birchers, and LSD. Clay becomes a casualty of a ...

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The times they are a-changin’ . . .

The Orange County, California, that the Becker brothers knew as boys is no more—unrecognizably altered since the afternoon in 1954 when Nick, Clay, David, and Andy rumbled with the lowlife Vonns, while five-year-old Janelle Vonn watched from the sidelines. The new decade has brought about the end of the orange groves and the birth of suburban sprawl. It is the era of Johnson, hippies, John Birchers, and LSD. Clay becomes a casualty of a far-off jungle war. Nick becomes a cop, Andy a reporter, David a minister. And the decapitated corpse of teenage beauty queen Janelle Vonn is discovered in an abandoned warehouse.

A hideous crime has touched the Beckers in ways that none of them could have anticipated, setting three brothers on a dangerous collision course that will change their family—and their world—forever.

Winner of the 2005 Edgar Award for Best Novel

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
The 1950s and '60s were turbulent times -- supercharged with conflicts over change of every kind. In Orange County, California, some of that energy boiled over into violence between two sets of brothers -- the Vonns and the Beckers. Although that infamous high school rumble is years in the past and the boys who fought have become young men, thay are all still trapped in different ways by their common past. When the body of lovely Janelle Vonn is discovered in an abandoned orange packing plant, the turbulence of those earlier times becomes relevant in a whole new way. Armed now with the skills of their adult professions -- reporter, minister, and cop -- the Becker brothers set out to uncover the truth about Janelle's death. And, as more and more secrets are exposed, the risks grow too, on all sides. For whatever Janelle's death was supposed to hide, someone thinks it's too dangerous be allowed into the light of day.

In California Girl, award-winning mystery writer T. Jefferson Parker -- author of the bestsellers Red Light and The Blue Hour -- has done a wonderful job of capturing the dark, edgy side of the Summer of Love. Sue Stone

Wichita Falls
“One of the most entertaining tough-guy writers.”
Los Angeles Times
“A man much praised doesn’t need more encomiums; but T. Jefferson Parker deserves all he gets.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Drum-tight prose and richly layered characters.”
New York Times
Wall Street Journal
“The book is a gripping, atmospheric saga…wonderfully evokes its time and place. California Girl is an unforgettable book.”
Reviewing The Evidence
“A piercing piece of storytelling.”
Orlando Sentinel
“Evocative. Delicately crafted.”
“One of the most entertaining tough-guy writers.”
New Mystery Reader
“Grabs the reader in a stranglehold of poignancy and suspense that doesn’t let up until the final page.”
Janet Evanovich
“California Girl is wound tight as a spring and filled with characters you won’t soon forget. Parker is superb.”
Janet Maslin
in the end California Girl is a rambling, likable book with a good deal on its mind … the strategic nostalgia of California Girl delivers well-chosen blasts from the past.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Set on Parker's usual turf, this Orange County, Calif., saga is a family drama carefully wrapped around a mystery involving a murdered beauty queen. Back in 1954, the Becker brothers, David, Nick, Clay and Andy, win a fight with the wrong-side-of-the-tracks Vonn brothers at the Sunblesst orange packinghouse. After the rumble, the Vonns' little sisters, Lynette and Janelle, show up to throw rocks. Thus begins a lifelong association between three of the brothers and the two girls. In 1968, Janelle is back at the packinghouse, only now she's lying dead on the floor, her decapitated head several feet from her torso. Nick is with the county sheriff's department working his first case as lead detective. Brother Clay has been killed in Vietnam, Andy is a reporter on a local newspaper and David is a minister. Framing the occasionally glacial narrative with Nick's present-day reworking of the case, Parker (Cold Pursuit, etc.) introduces a wide variety of quirky period characters, from stoned-out hippies to Dick Nixon and his conservative cronies, one of whom might be Janelle's killer. Readers should think mainstream novel rather than thriller and prepare to wait patiently for the rewards offered by this intricately plotted tale. Agent, Robert Gottlieb. (Oct.) Forecast: A solid push by the publisher is an attempt to move Parker from regional to national bestseller lists, though this rather slow entry makes that a long shot. Five-city author tour. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Besides telling a killer story, Parker's latest thriller hauntingly evokes a time (the 1960s) and a place (Southern California). The Becker boys (Andy the homicide reporter, Nick the cop, and David the minister; Clay was killed in Vietnam) grew up near the Vonns, a troubled, abusive family burdened with more than its share of tragedy. When 19-year-old beauty queen Janell Vonn, the essence of a California girl, is found beheaded in the abandoned SunBlesst packing house, the Becker brothers begin their separate quests to find her killer, finally bringing him to justice while realizing redemption for themselves. But 40 years after a conviction, it becomes apparent that the Beckers were wrong, very wrong. Drenched in lust, love, betrayal, and unfulfilled promise, California Girl features masterly plotting, smart prose, and memorable characters. Another excellent work from the author of Cold Pursuit; highly recommended. [See Mystery Prepub, LJ 6/1/04.]-Rebecca House Stankowski, Purdue Univ. Calumet Lib., Hammond, IN Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Blazingly pretty at 19, Janelle Vonn was the quintessential California Girl, and all men were drawn to her, including the one who killed her. Instead of the Earps and the Clantons, Parker presents the Beckers and the Vonns; instead of the OK Corral, the abandoned SunBlest Oranges packing house in Tustin, California; and instead of a firefight, a rumble, the aftermath of a school-kid incident. That's when Nick and Andy Becker first set eyes on a five-year-old Janelle, an interested, if curiously detached, witness to her brothers' humiliation. When the same setting is cordoned off as a murder scene fifteen years later, in October, 1968, with Janelle the brutally mistreated victim, Nick Becker, homicide detective for Tustin PD, is there. So is Andy Becker, crime reporter for the Orange County Journal. For different reasons, Janelle was special to both of them. Catching her killer is a matter of personal importance, though both already lead complicated lives. They independently begin to investigate, uncovering a long and varied list of suspects: a US congressman, a newspaper publisher, a musician, a high-school football coach, a third Becker brother, and even, momentarily, Timothy Leary. Charles Manson makes a brief but chilling appearance as well. Love, lust, murder, betrayal, suffering, and redemption all parade by as a brilliant tale-spinner (Cold Pursuit, 2003, etc.) once again has his way with us. Agency: Trident Media Group
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062103390
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/27/2011
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 635,204
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

T. Jefferson Parker

T. Jefferson Parker is the bestselling author of seventeen novels, including the Edgar® Award winners California Girl and Silent Joe. Alongside Dick Francis and James Lee Burke, he is one of only three writers who has won the Edgar® Award for Best Novel more than once. Parker lives with his family in Southern California.


One of the best loved crime writers of our time, T. Jefferson Parker was born in Los Angeles and has lived all of his life in Southern California. The poster boy for Orange County, he enjoyed an almost idyllic childhood bodysurfing, playing in Little League, and enjoying family outings with his parents and siblings. He was educated in public schools in Orange County and received his bachelor's degree in English from the University of California, Irvine, in 1976. (He was honored in 1992 as the University's Distinguished Alumnus.)

His writing career began in 1978 as a cub reporter on the weekly newspaper, The Newport Ensign. After covering crime, city hall, and local culture for the Ensign, Parker moved on to the Daily Pilot newspaper, where he won three Orange County Press Club awards for his articles. During this time, he filed away information he would later use to develop characters and plot points for his novels.

Published in 1985, Parker's first book, Laguna Heat, was written in whatever spare time he could find during his stint as a reporter. The book received rave reviews and was made into an HBO movie starring Harry Hamlin, Jason Robards and Rip Torn.

Since that auspicious beginning, Parker has made a name for himself with smart, savvy bestsellers dealing with crime, life, and death in sunny Southern California. In 2001, he hit the jackpot with Silent Joe, a bittersweet thriller that won the Mystery Writers of America's coveted Edgar Award for Best Novel. In 2004, he repeated the feat with Califoria Girl, making him one of only two writers (the other is James Lee Burke) ever to have won two Best Novel Edgars. Among other honors and accolades, Parker has won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Best Mystery/Thriller and the Southern California Booksellers Award for Best Novel of the Year. His books continue to score big on the national bestseller lists.

Good To Know

The "T" in Parker's name doesn't really stand for anything. His mother once told him she thought it would look good on the presidential letterhead!

In an interview with, Parker explained how his definition of noir has altered: "It seems to me that since 9/11 our appetites for darkness have shrunk a little. Mine have. I know that as a writer I've tried to bring more breadth and humanity to my stories. I think when all is said and done, a noir attitude is fine, but it's still just an attitude, a pose.

Parker's first wife, Catherine, died of a brain tumor at a very young age. He has since remarried happily.

In an interview with Harlan Coben, Parker was asked about the state of crime writing, i.e., what's wrong and what's right with it. "I think the Achilles heel of mystery/crime writing is character," he responded. "You have to have good characters—and sometimes I think mystery writers rely to heavily on plot and velocity of plot at the expense of characters."

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    1. Hometown:
      Fallbrook, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 26, 1953
    2. Place of Birth:
      Los Angeles, California
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, University of California-Irvine, 1976
    2. Website:

First Chapter

California Girl
A Novel
Chapter One Here and Now

I drove past the old SunBlesst packinghouse today. Nothing left of it. Not one stick. Now there's a bedroom store, a pet emporium, and a supermarket. Big and new. Moms and dads and kids everywhere. Pretty people, especially the moms. Young, with time to dream, wake up, and dream again.

I still have a piece of the flooring I tore off the SunBlesst packinghouse back in sixty-eight. When I was young. When I thought that what had happened there shouldn't ever happen anywhere. When I thought it was up to me to put things right.

I'm made of that place — of the old wood and the rusted conveyors and the pigeons in the eaves and the sunlight slanting through the cracks. Of Janelle Vonn. Of everything that went down, there in October, 1968. Even made of the wind that blew that month, dry and hot off the desert, huffing across Orange County to the sea.

I have a piece of the picket fence from the grassy knoll at Dealey Plaza, too. And a piece of rock that came not far from where Mercury 1 lifted off. And one of Charlie Manson's guitar picks.

But those are different stories.

Later I met my brother Andy at the Fisherman's Restaurant down in San Clemente. Late August. The day was bright as a brushfire, no clouds, sun flashing off the waves and tabletops. Andy looked at me like someone had hit him in the stomach.

"It's about Janelle," he said.

Janelle Vonn in the SunBlesst orange packinghouse in Tustin.

Thirty-six years ago, two brothers who didn't look much alike, staring down at her and across at each other while the pigeons cooed and the wind blew through theold slats.

A different world then, different world now.

Same brothers. Andy stayed thin and wiry. Tough as a boiled owl. Me, I've filled out some, though I can still shiver the heavy bag in the sheriff 's gym.

San Clemente, and you have to think Nixon. The western White House, right up the road. I picture him walking down the beach with the Secret Service guys ahead and behind. Too many secrets and nobody but the seagulls to tell them to. Andy's newspaper ran a cartoon of him once, after he'd been chased out of office, and the cartoon showed him walking the beach with a metal detector, looking for coins. Thought thatwas a funny one. I kind of liked Dick Nixon. Grewup just over the hill from us. He was tight with my old man and his Bircher friends for awhile, used to come to the house back in the fiftieswhen he was vice president and in the early sixties when he'd lost for governor. They'd sit around, drink scotch, make plans. Nixon had a way of making you feel important. It's an old pol's trick, I know. I even knewit then. In fifty-six I graduated from the L.A. Sheriff 's Academy and Dick Nixon sent me a note. The vice president. Nice handwriting. It's still in my collection of things.

But that's a different story, too.

"You don't look so good, Andy," I said.

Brothers and we still don't look much alike. An old cop and an old re-porter. There used to be four of us Becker boys. Raised some hell. Just three now.

I looked at Andy and I could see something different in his face.

"What gives?" I asked.

"Listen to me, Nick. Everything we thought about Janelle Vonn was wrong."

California Girl
A Novel
. Copyright © by T. Parker. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 21 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2005

    Calafornia in the 60's

    The 1950s and 60s were a chaotic time, in a world that was undergoing tremendous social change, the youth of California were not unaffected. The story is about the Becker brothers, Nick (now a homicide detective), David (a Priest) and Andy (a journalist). The three boys are mentally transported back to relive their childhood when Nick is assigned, as his first case, the investigation of the beheading murder of Janelle Vonn, the younger sister of the violent Vonn brothers ¿ arch-enemies from the boy's childhood. Andy recognises that the story of the investigation could lead to his break into big-time journalism so follows the case closely. Janelle was abused by her brothers and Nick and Andy had helped her escape to start a new life, her escape caused a violent encounter between the two sets of brothers. David, Nick and Andy all investigate the case from different angles, occasionally co-operating and sharing their information. As secrets are revealed ¿ careers, lives and loves are threatened. Are the brothers able to solve the crime before they become victims of it? Parker is a very descriptive author, and has used powerful imagery to portray an investigation that is totally guesswork and hunch following, does not include computers and modern day forensic techniques. The era is well researched and brought back memories of events and fashions of the day. Parker even had well known `real' characters flitting in and out of the story, such as Richard Nixon was a friend of the Becker brother's parents. This is my first book by this author and I found his portrayal of the different characters to be meticulous, I felt that I knew them all personally by the end of the book. The plot was good, the characterisation was good and the writing was excellent.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent crime thriller

    The Becker and Vonn families share a history that goes back years starting when they rumbled in the old packinghouse because a member of the former threw a hat belonging to the latter to a dog. When the Beckers apologized for the incident, they noticed that five years old Janelle Vonn had a black eye. Years later Janette attended a sermon given by David Becker. Afterward she told David and his two brothers, police officer Nick and reporter Andy, that her siblings forced her to have sex with them............................ Nick was able to get her siblings arrested and the Becker clan tried to keep Janellee safe. Nick arrives at that same packinghouse to lead his first homicide investigation, the decapitation of Janellete. As he digs deeper, his two brothers feed him information, which leads to a suspect in Mexico. Across the border a shoot out occurs leaving eight dead and Nick severely injured. Still he thinks he has an open and shut case, but Andy thinks otherwise....................... CALIFORNIA GIRL is not the author¿s ultra dark and foreboding crime thriller though it is bleak, but instead is an intriguing police procedural. Readers come to know the goodness of the Beckers especially since the tale is predominantly told from the perspective of the three brothers (and the badness of the Vonns). This contrast turns into a two edge sword as the rivalry causes adrenaline pumping suspense, but the extremes are too simplistic; then again perhaps if the Vonns told the tale the magnetic poles would switch. T. Jefferson Parker provides an action packed cerebral crime thriller starring a trio of likable siblings........................ Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2013

    Caaaaliforrnnniiiiiaaa guuuuuurrll!!

    Hahahaaa no.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2013

    California Girl

    Pretty good...why did I wait to read this?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2012


    oh really?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2012



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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2012

    Im more em o.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2012

    This fictional work just takes you to a different time and place.

    California in the sixties must have been amazing. Parker takes you there and gives you a crime drama worthy of paying attention to. The characters are well developed and the entire book left me wishing the tale could keep going.

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  • Posted March 12, 2012

    Good plot development - complex characters

    This book was not a real page turner, but the depth of the plot kept me going just to see what was going to happen. Complex mix of characters made for a good read. Liked the mix of old and new cultures as the author followed the Vonn and Becker families through the 60's and all the changes in the Orange Co. Calif. area. It has a few surprising twists as it deals with the moral dilemmas the various characters. I'm looking forward to reading other books by this author to make a decision of I like this style of writing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2006


    This book was thoroughly entertaining and it is the best mystery thriller I have read in some time. It had consistent pacing and the suspence was unrelenting. Parker sets the scenery and mood of Orange County in such a way that I acually felt like I was there.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2004

    Murder Mystery in O.C.

    Orange County California is divided in the '60's between Nixon-loving crew-cut Republicans and beach bum hippies. Three brothers--a cop, a priest and a reporter--are thrust together to search for the killer of a childhood friend, a beauty queen who turns up murdered and headless. The secrets the brothers harbor begin to seep out as they try to solve the murder mystery. Highly recommended thriller!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2004

    Brothers and Sisters

    I¿ve never read anything by T. Jefferson Parker before, so I didn't know what to expect. In the first third of this book, I was just overwhelmed with how sad it felt. Four brothers rumble with the brothers of another family among the disappearing orange groves of California, starting a life-long connection between the Becker boys and the sisters of the Vonn family. The book is told from the perspectives of David, Nick, and Andy Becker, and takes place mostly in 1968, after the brothers are grown and the fourth brother, Clay, is killed in Vietnam. Nick is a newly-assigned homicide detective, and his first case is the brutal death of the younger of the Vonn sisters, Janelle. Andy, a newspaper reporter, is the first on the scene. David, a charismatic preacher, counted Janelle among his flock. As each of the three brothers do their own investigation into the murder for their own reasons, it becomes clear that each has a connection to Janelle that makes him vulnerable to outside influence. Add Mr. and Mrs. Becker, deeply involved in the John Birch Society since Clay¿s death, and you have a paradigmatic family from 1968. Add LSD and bell-bottoms, a sugar-daddy legislator, the birth of televangelism, Charlie Manson and Tim Leary and Dick Nixon, and you complete the picture. Parker is so good with the details, I found myself chuckling and nodding: yes, in 1968 that would right. Each brother has to come to terms with his own relationship to Janelle, how it affects his immediate family and his career, and how far he will go to protect his secret. But other people have deeper secrets, and as each brother picks up more clues, the story unfolds, false suspects come and go, fatal shoot-outs ensue, and as ultimately, each brother does the right thing, the truth becomes clear. T. Jefferson Parker goes on my list of authors to read.

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    Posted October 5, 2013

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    Posted February 6, 2012

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    Posted February 14, 2011

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    Posted September 1, 2009

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    Posted October 2, 2010

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    Posted July 13, 2012

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    Posted December 12, 2010

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    Posted February 26, 2011

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