T. Jefferson Parker, Author . Morrow $24.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-06-074942-2

Set on Parker's usual turf, this Orange County, Calif., saga is a family drama carefully wrapped around a mystery involving a murdered beauty queen. Back in 1954, the Becker brothers, David, Nick, Clay and Andy, win a fight with the wrong-side-of-the-tracks Vonn brothers at the Sunblesst orange packinghouse. After the rumble, the Vonns' little sisters, Lynette and Janelle, show up to throw rocks. Thus begins a lifelong association between three of the brothers and the two girls. In 1968, Janelle is back at the packinghouse, only now she's lying dead on the floor, her decapitated head several feet from her torso. Nick is with the county sheriff's department working his first case as lead detective. Brother Clay has been killed in Vietnam, Andy is a reporter on a local newspaper and David is a minister. Framing the occasionally glacial narrative with Nick's present-day reworking of the case, Parker (Cold Pursuit, etc.) introduces a wide variety of quirky period characters, from stoned-out hippies to Dick Nixon and his conservative cronies, one of whom might be Janelle's killer. Readers should think mainstream novel rather than thriller and prepare to wait patiently for the rewards offered by this intricately plotted tale. Agent, Robert Gottlieb. (Oct.)

Forecast: A solid push by the publisher is an attempt to move Parker from regional to national bestseller lists, though this rather slow entry makes that a long shot. Five-city author tour.

Reviewed on: 09/13/2004
Release date: 09/01/2005
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