I don’t know about you, but I’m a total sucker for the 1960s. I love the styles, music, movies, tv shows, cultural phenomenons, and all the things that made the 60s unique. So, it’s no surprise that I loved A Thousand Steps, a new novel by T. Jefferson Parker set in 1960’s Southern California. A suspenseful mystery steeped in psychedelia, this book delivers on multiple levels. Read on to see what I enjoyed most about this trip back in time.
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It’s the summer of 1968, and 16-year-old Matt Anthony’s life is about to abruptly change. First, he witnessed police recovering the body of a young girl who’s been missing for months. Now, his older sister, Jasmine, is missing, but the police don’t seem to care. All they care about is busting the narcotics ring that’s operating out of one of the local meditation centers, and they’ll go to any length to do it, even if it means asking Matt to steal evidence. But the police aren’t going to find her, so it’s up to Matt to discover what happened to her. He knows she didn’t run away, but where could she be?
His family’s broken by society’s standards, but nothing could have prepared him for the twists and turns of the past few days. Jasmine is gone, nowhere to be found. His mother, Julie, is strung out on the hashish and opium abundantly available in Dodge City. Kyle, his older brother, is counting down the days until his tour in Vietnam ends, but his letters are getting darker and darker. And now his father, a former cop, is threatening to come back to Laguna to set things straight. As much as he’d like his dad’s help, he knows a visit from him will send his mother further down a spiral.
So much for the peaceful summer he planned. He was going to fish, learn to drive and work for pocket change. His paper route earns enough spending money that he’s able to help his mom with household expenses. But he knows she isn’t earning enough waiting tables to keep them afloat, especially now that she’s using drugs more heavily and missing shifts. So, when the leader of the local new-age church, Brothers of Enlightenment, offers to pay him a few extra bucks for a few simple errands he jumps at the chance! What’s the worst that could happen?
For weeks Matt searches high and low, even going door-to-door with his new girlfriend, hoping to find any trace of Jazz. He follows every lead, even to the open doors of the Vortex of Purity, a local commune led by a welcoming swami. But no one has seen her recently. Matt’s trying to remain hopeful despite the odds, but each lead seems to go nowhere. And every time he brings the local police a potential clue they dismiss him outright.
One thing is certain, Matt’s willing to do whatever it takes to bring his sister home, even if it means bending rules. Along the way, Jasmine’s footsteps will lead him into a world of hard drugs, sex parties, enlightenment centers, and hippy festivals. What he discovers about himself and the world around him is sure to be a trip!
I honestly didn’t know what to expect with this one when I requested the advanced reader copy (ARC). I knew enough to pique my interest, but I’d not read any other books by Parker. In the end, I decided to give it a shot as I’m hoping to read more thriller and mystery books this year. Luckily, it was a wise decision; I thoroughly enjoyed it! It was the perfect mix of history, tension, romance, and messiness. Part thriller, part coming of age story, part historical fiction, part family drama: this book has something for everyone.
This book hooked me from the first few lines. Parker did a great job grabbing the reader’s attention and holding on to the very end. Jam-packed with pivotal plot points, the pace of the story kept me wanting more. The messy family dynamics felt authentic and the characters took on a life of their own. And it was a joy to watch Matt awkwardly fumble through adolescence in a completely relatable way.
Laguna Beach felt, to me, like the perfect setting for this book. California seemed to be the epicenter of some of the larger movements of the time. The psychedelic counter-culture theme captures the feel of 1968: Timothy Leary, LSD, the Vietnam War, hippy fringe, VW vans, and peace signs. And don’t get me started on that gorgeous cover image! I’ve added this one to my list of the best books from the 60s/70s era, where it rightfully belongs.
If you’re looking for a great mystery novel with a historical twist, A Thousand Steps is the book for you. Don’t sleep on this great new novel. Thank you Netgalley and Forge Books for this e-Arc in exchange for my honest opinion!