cover image My Dirty California

My Dirty California

Jason Mosberg. Simon & Schuster, $28.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-9821-7866-6

The murder of Marty Morrel, an L.A. blogger focused on the “dark history below California’s undeniably beautiful surface,” propels screenwriter Mosberg’s kaleidoscopic, sprawling debut—a mystery with a sci-fi/supernatural vibe. Marty’s brother uses his trove of videos and blog posts to search for the killer, but other story lines from Marty’s past intersect with his quest: Pen, a documentary filmmaker who believes that reality might be a simulation, stumbles on Marty’s blog; Renata, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, meets Marty then disappears; and Tiphony, a striving, struggling young mother, gets enmeshed in a scheme to find a stash of stolen art that may have had a connection to Marty. The entire narrative is framed as a kind of true crime podcast that was never released, but that conceit isn’t carried through effectively. Mosberg writes well about the many ills, past and present, in the Golden State, but he’s simply not in control of his unnavigable plot, which reads like a prose rendition of a 10-part Netflix series. Mystery fans won’t bite, but readers with a taste for freewheeling, ambiguous narratives may have fun. Agent: David Gernert, Gernert Co. (Aug.)