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California Girl: A Novel Hardcover – September 28, 2004

76 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

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.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (September 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060562366
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060562366
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,538,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

T. Jefferson Parker is the bestselling author of 20 crime novels, including Edgar Award-winners Silent Joe and California Girl. Parker's next work is a literary novel, Full Measure, to be published in October. He lives with his family in Southern California.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Lynch on November 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
California Girl is about the Becker boys and follows them into early adulthood. One becomes a homicide detective, one a minister and one a reporter. The bulk of the novel is focused on the death of a young woman, whom the Becker men have known most of their life. Her death affects each of them in a different way.

I have to start by saying I am a fan of Parker's writing and have always been impressed by his work. Having said that, I think California Girl is an exciting step in a new direction. Less of a novel about catching the killer and more about the effects the murder has on the people around her. Like Lehane with Mystic River and Rozan with Absent Friends, Parker is stepping to the next level with a novel that is every bit a piece of literature as it is a crime novel.
It is work like this that helps remove any posible stigma that comes with the term "genre novel"

In April 2005, California Girl was awarded the Edgar award for best Novel of 2004, by the Mystery Writers of America.
It is Parker's second Best Novel Edgar, as Silent Joe also won.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By S. Roddom on January 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Reader/author on October 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mr. Parker has always been exceptional at characterization, but this book nails real atmosphere as well, and is at the top of my 2004 list, along with The Narrows by Michael Connelly, Memorial Day by Harry Shannon and that new Robert Crais. The 60's seem especially relevent these days (war and all) so the writing really make my skin ripple. Great stuff! Buy it, you won't be disappointed. As usual.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By nobizinfla on December 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
A Plus for T. Jefferson Parker's incredible "California Girl."

Stylish and engaging, it transports you back to 1968 in Orange County (and up to present day)...again mixing real life characters (Dick Nixon, Tim Leary, Charles Manson) with a fictional cast of vividly sketched characters.

The three Becker brothers (a cop, a crime reporter and a minister) have an intense commitment to finding the truth about a decapitated friend from their teenage years.

Their search for the facts leads to compromise, concessions and exposure of the brothers' secrets.

It is a subtle, sophisticated, cerebral novel with justice the overruling matter how long it may take.

A well-crafted look back at a period of time that fashioned a generation told in a most intriguing manner.

As good as any book I have read this year.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on October 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
T. Jefferson Parker is one of those writers who quietly and incrementally has been building a loyal following. This hasn't been easy, since Parker has more often than not eschewed the creation of a recurring character. While three of his novels (THE BLUE HOUR, BLACK LIGHT and BLACK WATER) have featured detective Merci Rayborn, most of his books have been stand-alone works, with Parker choosing to let each of his novels rise or fall on its own merits. The result, deliberately or otherwise, is that one truly never knows what is going to happen in a T. Jefferson Parker novel. The only certainty that one has upon cracking the binding of a new Parker book is that it will make that reader's "Best Novel" list for that particular year.

CALIFORNIA GIRL is no exception to this rule. It is a story that spans four decades, from 1960 to the present. The primary focus of the novel, however, is 1968. The setting is southern California, the site of a cultural and political maelstrom that continues to have ramifications to this day. The Becker brothers have taken different vocational paths: one is a homicide detective, one a reporter, and one a minister. Yet their paths are going to cross, and dramatically so, when the mutilated body of Janelle Vonn is discovered in an abandoned warehouse. Vonn was a woman who seemed doomed to a bad end almost from the day she was born, and the crowd that she ran with --- druggies, surfers and musicians --- fed into her seeming penchant for self-destruction. Each of the Becker brothers had their own unique tie, past or present, to Vonn, and thus each tries in his own separate way to find her murderer and bring him to justice.
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