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
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
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.
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.
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
“A man much praised doesn’t need more encomiums; but T. Jefferson Parker deserves all he gets.”
“Drum-tight prose and richly layered characters.”
“The book is a gripping, atmospheric saga…wonderfully evokes its time and place. California Girl is an unforgettable book.”
“A piercing piece of storytelling.”
“Evocative. Delicately crafted.”
“One of the most entertaining tough-guy writers.”
“Grabs the reader in a stranglehold of poignancy and suspense that doesn’t let up until the final page.”
“California Girl is wound tight as a spring and filled with characters you won’t soon forget. Parker is superb.”