Click here to read reviewer Shannon Bigham's take on California Girl.
The 1950s and 60s were a tumultuous era - the world was changing and the youth of America were being affected. This was the time of growing nuclear tension, the death of Kennedy, the horror of the Vietnam War and, later on, the drug-happy hippy culture. But this book is not just a social commentary but also the evocative background against which T. Jefferson Parker sets his latest thrilling narrative.
In the slowly depleting orange groves of Tustin, California, the boisterous Becker boys and the dangerous Vonn brothers have a violent and memorable encounter at an abandoned packinghouse. But it is their spirited young sister, Janelle Vonn, who will go on to affect the Becker brothers like nothing before or since. Years later, Nick Becker, now a homicide detective, faces his first case Ė the brutal beheading of ex-Miss Tustin, the beautiful Janelle. His brother Andy, a journalist with a mounting reputation, sees in this case an opportunity for something big and closely follows the case. Their other brother, David, is a preacher with a heart of gold and the one who most helped Janelle in her rehabilitation. Working from different angles and cooperating whenever possible, Nick and Andy chip their way into the heart of the case and, in the process, reveal a society in despair from both from war, drugs and death. They reveal the emerging change in a complex web of growing sexual freedom, heartbreak and despair. As secrets are revealed and silences broken, careers, lives and even loves are at stake. Can the Becker boys solve the case before it consumes them and the lives of those around them?
As usual, Parker has created an immaculate, stylish saga in California Girl. Parkerís words are so evocative and nostalgic as to compel readers to smell the orange blossoms and feel like they are standing there in Tustin, California, first-hand witnesses to the change in time, people, morals, politics, economy and world order. With profound imagery, the author weaves a complex murder mystery which, in the absence of modern forensic techniques and computers, is a matter of pure guesswork and hard legwork. Not only are the characters caught up in this brutal beheading of a local beauty queen; their own personal lives and loves get intertwined with this case.
The dilemmas faced by the Becker brothers feel real, human and chilling. The other most impressive factor besides the compelling story itself is the detailed research the author has done to bring a bygone era to life in the pages. Parker makes a habit of going into the heart of matters, people and their motivations and showing them for what they are without glossing over anything, no matter how tiny. This unflinching honesty, together with Parkerís devious plotting and skillful writing, makes California Girl the comprehensive, satisfyingly honest saga that it is.