three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
14-Jan-Feb-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-CaliforniaGirlIn 1968, nineteen-year-old Janelle Vonn, a former Playboy cover girl and beauty queen, is found raped and decapitated in an abandoned orange-packing plant in Orange County. In investigating her murder, Parker jumps back a decade to the high school rumbles between Janelle’s older brothers and the Becker boys. Now all grown up, one Becker brother is a cop, one is a minister, and the last one is a crime reporter. All three are determined to find Janelle’s killer. But as they delve into the crime and compile a list of suspects, they begin to uncover past secrets—and all innocence disappears.
Morrow. 384 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0060562366

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"The book is a gripping, atmospheric saga spurred by the involvements of three brothers—a detective, a minister and a reporter—with one beautiful, willful young woman over the course of a generation. … California Girl is an unforgettable book." Tom Nolan

Knight Ridder 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Set mainly in 1968 Southern California, Parker’s novel is an evocative trip back to the days of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, hippies, LSD, Charles Manson, Richard Nixon, peace protests and the rising anger against the war in Vietnam. … a delicately crafted look back at an era that shaped a generation." Ann Hellmuth

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"A couple of Twilight Zone episodes turn up in T. Jefferson Parker’s California Girl, and no wonder: this book has a reality-warping effect of its own. … A crime story with a strong sense of place and a wide character spectrum can dig deeper than California Girl does: Dennis Lehane’s Boston and George Pelecanos’s Washington come to mind. But California Girl, while sunnier and lighter, has its own brand of gravitas and its own vivid geography." Janet Maslin

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Parker does a good job, for the most part, of keeping various plotlines on track and preventing readers from getting lost. [The brothers’] commitment to finding the truth, and the compromises they are forced to make, give California Girl its surprising depth." David Lazarus

Critical Summary

Parker’s 12th novel is a gripping saga of three brothers and their relationship to one doomed and abused young woman over the course of a generation. Parker uses Janelle as a focal point for examining a diverse set of characters; in investigating her murder, for example, the Becker brothers dig deep within themselves. Yet perhaps the best character is ‘60s-era Southern California itself: its blue sky, ocean, drive-in churches, orange groves, tract homes, peace protests, and drugs, spotted with cameos by Richard Nixon, Timothy Leary, and other celebrities. California Girl, though technically a crime novel, is also a family saga and history, though it tries too hard at the latter. If sometimes too self-conscious or superficial in tone, the novel offers a not-so-innocent look at the tarnished California dream.

Also by the Author

Silent Joe (2002): Award Star Winner of the 2002 Edgar Award for Best Novel. When Orange County Deputy Sheriff Joe Trona’s adoptive father is killed right in front of him, Joe vows revenge.