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    Review of CALIFORNIA GIRL by T. Jefferson Parker (see his website)

    William Morrow, September 2004

    In 1960s Southern California, Janelle Vonn is a girl who seems to be overcoming a tragic past. Sexually abused, drug-addicted, she rose above those problems to become a beauty queen, then a police informant. Alas, the beautiful woman is found in an abandoned orange packing house, raped and decapitated.

    Janelle's life and those of her family members are inextricably bound to another family, the Beckers. Her death will come to affect each of them in a profound way. Nick is the young homicide detective given his first murder. Many are out to prove he's not up to the task of finding Janelle's killer. Andy is the ambitious reporter determined to uncover the truth and get the scoop, which puts him in a delicate situation with his cop brother. David is the minister who once salvaged Janelle's life, pulling her away from drugs and abuse. He has secrets that, if exposed, might ruin his reputation, his church and his family. Then there are the Becker parents, rabid John Birchers, who become unwitting pawns as an FBI agent with an axe to grind uses Janelle's murder to manipulate guilty and innocent alike.

    As is to be expected in a T. Jefferson Parker novel, the characters are drawn to perfection and the setting comes to live so vividly that, as someone who remembers the sixties, I found myself recalling things from that era that aren't even in the book. The story was lively, and each time I thought I knew what was going on, the plot twisted again.

    If I have one complaint, it's that a lot of real, famous people flitted in and out of the book for no real reason. The Becker parents were friends with Richard Nixon; Janelle hung out with Timothy Leary; one of the brothers had a fight with Charles Manson. The parade of famous characters started to feel like it should have been in Forrest Gump. And there were a few other wink-wink-nod-nod predictions about the "future" that tended to pull me out of the story. But these are miniscule concerns. I still ignored work, TV, and sleep to finish this one.

    See more reviews of novels by T. Jefferson Parker.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 11/04/04

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