California Girl: A Novel

California Girl: A Novel

by T. Jefferson Parker


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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 ushered in 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 a terrible crime touches them all in ways they could never have anticipated when the mutilated corpse of teenage beauty queen Janelle Vonn is discovered in an abandoned warehouse.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061874895
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/28/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 813,997
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

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.


Fallbrook, California

Date of Birth:

December 26, 1953

Place of Birth:

Los Angeles, California


B.A. in English, University of California-Irvine, 1976

Read an Excerpt

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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California Girl 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Frogbilli More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
harstan More than 1 year ago
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
susanamper on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Story of three brothers, policeman, journalist, minister (and the one who would probably have been the Indian Chief is killed off early). Begins in 1954 in California with the brothers' involvement with a doomed young woman. It's one of those stories about the past that is supposed to elicit feelings of nostalgia and regret. But it's a little too gimmicky. The writer is worth another look, but I would not recommend this novel.
zmagic69 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great story of a family who interact with a girls murder in the 1960's in Orange county California. Fiction but very historical.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Pretty good...why did I wait to read this?
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Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hahahaaa no.