California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker

 

Suspense

California girl California GirlT. Jefferson Parker; William Morrow 2004WorldCatOrange County, California was much different in the later 1950’s and 1960’s. It still had rural areas. Some towns still had a small town feel. Orange groves slowly gave way before tract houses. By 1968 the area was inundated with drugs, sex, politics, and the Viet Nam War. In fact, this was Richard Nixon’s home county.

The Becker brothers and the Vonn family lived in Tustin. While teenagers, the boys had a gang type argument – “we’ll meet you by the packing house”. There was little love lost between the boys. The youngest two Vonns were girls. Those girls, amidst the pain and struggle of the Vonn family, entwined themselves unknowingly into the Becker boys thoughts.

In 1968 the oldest Becker brother, David, is an independent minister. Nick is a county sherriff. Clay died in Viet Nam in 1962 while there as an “advisor”. Andy is the top crime reporter at the newspaper where he works. The Vonn brothers have been in and out of prison for violence and drug arrests. Nick has just become a lead homicide sherriff. His first case is the body of a girl found in the old orange packing house. The headless body is that of Janelle Vonn, the youngest of the Vonn family. Nick is determined to find Janelle’s killer. This is the first case that is his responsibility. Plus he still remembers the sprite little girl who had grown into the town beauty.

But this is not an easy case. As Nick and Andy each dig from their own professional viewpoint, secrets start to unravel. Secrets of years long standing could be exposed the further they look into Janelle’s death. These secrets not only involve the Becker family and the Vonns, but local townspeople and even local politicians. (Nixon is a minor character in this novel set during his campaign for president.) The search for solutions in Janelle’s death reveals traits and hidden items that many people hoped were buried. It also leads to the death of one of the brothers. Will it be worth bringing the accused man to justice?

Parker sucked me right into this dark, suspenseful novel. It is not too dark because the relationships between the brothers and their families are good. The only shadow there is how the Becker parents have reacted since Clay’s death. Everything else in the novel surrounding the murder and motives is dark and shady. I find the dark and the light touch are well balanced. The ending was no surprise to me. Nick had skirted around it numerous times during the investigation but had other, more likely suspects.

The contrast of lifestyles is a good weave. Each brother has his own sense of honor and acts on it. David and his wife are busy with a growing church. He is devoted to God. Nick is a family man and honorable policeman. But there is still that one person who could bring it all down. Andy is a crack reporter, happily single, happily enjoying drugs, alcohol, and sex at night and chasing stories during the day.

The backdrop of 1968 will be familiar to those of us who are older. To those who are younger, once again we discover that sin was not created in our/your generation.

Notice: Non-graphic violence, Strong indecent language, Suggestive dialogue or situations.

More books by T. Jefferson Parker

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