Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book Review: 2005 Edgar Award Winner: California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker

California Girl
 T. Jefferson Parker
     California Girl is a fantastic crime novel set in Southern California, the locale for all of T. Jefferson Parker's many entertaining novels.  This author has been nominated three times for the Best Novel Edgar Award.  This is his second winner, the first being Silent Joe.  If you have never read one of Parker’s books before, you don’t know what you are missing.  He transcends the genre of mystery novel, as his books have great depth and are not pure crime novels or mysteries.  Like Silent Joe, this book is a tremendous character study.  Actually, there are multiple character studies which intertwine and interact.  California Girl is also a re-creation of an era and a place: late 1960s Orange County, California.  While this is not a historical novel, the appearance of many non-fictional characters makes this an even more interesting read.  These include such disparate characters as Richard Nixon, Timothy Leary and a hyperactive and wild rock and roll drummer named Charles Manson.
     The story is set up in the 1950s.  Two families feud after their sons are involved in a rumble outside of the California Girl orange packing plant.  The Becker family (four sons) is respectable, church-going and hardworking.  The Vonns (three boys, one girl) on the other hand, are from “the other side of the tracks”, literally and figuratively.  They are more interested in motorcycles, alcohol and drugs than more mainstream pursuits.  The one daughter involved, Janelle Vonn, grows up to win regional beauty contests and rises above her sordid upbringing.  The eldest Becker son is killed in Viet Nam and the remaining three mature into a minister, a newspaper reporter and a police officer.  The Vonn brothers remain outside the law, engaged in everything from illicit drugs to stolen goods.  The two family stories intersect again in 1968 when the decapitated body of Janelle Vonn is found in the now deserted orange packing plant.  Each of the three Beckers investigates Janelle’s killing from his own perspective.   Further clashes with the surviving Vonns are inevitable.  A conviction is finally secured and the alleged perpetrator is incarcerated.  The Beckers are never really satisfied with this and thirty years later the case is brought to a startling and unexpected conclusion.  Dirty politics (a Parker staple) play a major role in the resolution of the story.

     This book has it all: great characters which are well developed, a twisting but plausible plot with unexpected turns, a spectacular Southern California setting which the author obviously knows and loves and interesting historical tidbits thrown in for good measure.  I enjoyed California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker immensely and recommend it highly.  This novel is more than worthy of the 2005 Edgar Award which it received.

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