T. Jefferson Parker

I love mystery stories, and I love dense character portrayals. I also really enjoy stories set somewhere "new" to me, where I learn a lot about the environment and time while I read. California Girl appealed to me on all of those levels.

The story is in essence a super-long flashback taking place in Orange County, California in the 1960s. There are four brothers in a farming family who have issues with the three "other side of the tracks" brothers of a much poorer family. The tale is about how the members of the two families interact, and how the individuals grow and mature over the years.

I in general enjoyed the story greatly, I enjoyed the characters and the whole environment that they lived in. It was interesting reading about how the loss of the orange industry affected the town and how people back then viewed world events.

That being said, a few things did bug me. First, there were too-frequent "snide comments about the future". Maybe it's just a personal pet peeve of mine, but I dislike commentary in a "past time story" where the characters say things like "Well jeez maybe in the future they'll be able to tell someone's identity from a drop of blood. Nah - that's silly. Let's look at these fingerprint whorls again." I generally let it pass if this happens once or twice in a book - but it was pretty common here.

Next, while the character portrayals were reasonably good, they were still quite stereotyped. We have the rough but caring cop. His brother, the journalist. The other brother, the minister. Fourth brother? A soldier. You have a gay person, and random famous people injected to add color. But ... speaking of color ... everyone seemed to be white. It was a very vanilla story, which strikes me as odd in that area of the country. In any case, it was pretty predictable how each character would act, moving within his predescribed world view.

There were also a few situations which seemed quite contrived, to help the plot move along in a given direction. I had to allow myself to "just believe" in order to keep reading and have the story try to make sense.

I'm not saying I disliked the book! I did read it straight through, and recommended it to others when I was done. It just had some issues which I wish had not existed; if they'd been handled differently, this could have become a real favorite of mine.

Cold Service - T. Jefferson Parker

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