Thank you to Simon and Schuster publishing for providing me with a copy of My Dirty California by Jason Mosberg in exchange for this honest review.
My Dirty California is the mystery novel I’ve been waiting for. It’s original, thought provoking, complex without red herrings, and anything but formulaic. Where many mysteries fail, this novel surpasses expectations.
The story starts when the prodigal son Marty returns home. He spontaneously arrives in Pennsylvania after having run away to California 10 years earlier. 2 days after his arrival he and his father are murdered while brother Jody was running an errand. He came home just in time to see the murderer flee and watch his father die.
In a decision made out of pure adrenaline he packs a bag and drives to Cali determined to solve the murder that the police don’t seem to care about. His only clues are on his brother’s video blog titled My Dirty California. He has detailed the events of the last 10 years and Jody is hoping his killer will be among the clues.
Jody’s is not the only story being told in this novel. There are three other characters that alternating chapters focus on. Pen is a filmmaker who wants to find the glitch in the simulation (she believes we’re in the Matrix so to speak), Renata is a Mexican immigrant who has gone missing, and Tiphony is a black woman on house arrest who wants to help her husband find a treasure.
Let’s start with Pen. She had a previously successful film that she made as a documentary about UFOs but producers convinced her to advertise it as a horror story. Now she wants a grant to make a new film about a place called Pandora’s House, which she believes is where she can glitch to a different simulation and find her missing father.
This sounds very complicated but Pen is a well written character for whom all of the conspiracies and wild theories are 100% real. She’s convincing because she’s convinced herself. Also, a note on the house. It’s clearly an homage to House of Leaves and the author does well to acknowledge that toward the end of the book. Owning up to this makes it far easier to accept and not think of it as a rip off.
Pen discovers My Dirty California and becomes obsessed with a video of Marty talking about a missing girl, Renata. She thinks Renata must have jumped to another simulation and is determined to trace this story. Jody sees the same video but thinks it has something to do with the killer instead.
The novel brilliantly shows how different perspectives can see the same pieces of evidence and come to wildly different conclusions. This is something I rarely, if ever, see in mysteries.
Renata has indeed gone missing. She was last heard of going to visit Pandora’s house. From her chapters we see that she is trapped in a strange room with one other person. Is she actually in another simulation or is it something else? As we root for her escape the details make it clearer.
Tiphony has the most detached plot for the bulk of the book but it all comes together in the end. She is on house arrest and her husband is in jail for an incident involving assault against racists who deserved it. He husband always has a scheme and he knows of an art treasure just waiting to be found. A fellow inmate has given him the lead and Tiphony needs to be the body on the outside who can find their riches.
These 4 completely different stories all take a unique path to the same destination. They don’t even know where they’re headed but by the end they’ll be there together. The reader has to decide which perspective has the most truth to it and which one to follow to solve the mysteries.
I am fascinated with the simulation hypothesis and other various worldviews so I wanted to follow Pen but the logic part of my brain took over most of the time. But author Mosberg does such a good job at portraying the different views that any one of them could be believable.
If you’re looking for a mystery that will keep you guessing and make you question everything you think you know then I strongly recommend My Dirty California. It’s a character driven page-turner that you will not regret.
5/5 Sunny Californias ☀️☀️☀️☀️☀️
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