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A THOUSAND STEPS
by T JEFFERSON PARKER
Forge, January 2022
368 pages
$27.99
ISBN: 125079353X


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Sixteen-year-old Matt Anthony has a lot on his mind. His earnings from a newspaper route and the fish he catches on the beach help keep his family fed barely. His brother is anxiously counting down the days until he can come home from the war in Vietnam, his mother is spending too much time in her bedroom smoking weed, and his sister Jasmine, who stormed out of the house after an argument, hasn't come home. It's not like her.

Convinced she is in danger, especially after a girl from her school is found dead on the beach, Matt can't get the police to launch a serious search. Surely she's just another drug-addled runaway, part of the scene in Laguna Beach in 1968.

Matt's search becomes a map to a colorful town, where Timothy Leary gives lectures at the Mystic Arts World headshop, the Brotherhood of Eternal Peace promotes Jesus and dropping acid, an Indian spiritual leader promises enlightenment at a hilltop retreat, and surfers share the beach with a creepy photographer who gathers up girls to pose for a magazine. Drug dealers and hippies have taken over a working class neighborhood where cops make regular raids as roaming bands of feral children pelt them with rocks. Matt travels throughout the city on his bike and in an old VW bus as he searches for Jasmine, enlisting the help of a girl whom he has secretly admired since they were in elementary school.

It's clear the author knows and loves this place and its history. It gives the novel a rich setting for a coming-of-age story wrapped inside a missing-person mystery. While the solution may not catch seasoned crime fiction fans by surprise, it's a trip worth taking with a winning set of characters, deftly drawn. For those who were young in 1968, this novel will evoke a lot of memories. For those who aren't old enough to have been there, A THOUSAND STEPS is a time machine to a distinctive time and place, brought vividly to life.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, December 2022

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