Reviewer Karen Dahood : Karen lives in Tucson, AZ. After 35 years as a writer for businesses and nonprofits, she has turned to writing mysteries,the subtext of which addresses ageism, unpreparedness for aging, and America's wealth of experience and wisdom. Learn more about eldersleuth Sophie George at the Website Moxie Cosmos; Making Sense of Life Through Writing.
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
It isn’t often that I cry at the end of a thriller. This time, part of me was overflowing with affection for the characters; the other part was filled with disappointment because the story was over. Then I realized that there are three more books in the Raleigh Harmon series and, after I draft these comments, I am going to look at my checkbook and see if I dare order them all.
There was a glitch getting the review copies out to readers, so by the time The Stars Shine Bright arrived in my mailbox I had forgotten why I chose the book. The first few pages surprised me. I thought: Giorello’s a female Dick Francis. The plot revolves around skullduggery at a Seattle horse track; the FBI suspects someone is throwing races. Unlike the best-selling English writer, Giorello is literary in her style. The prose is not flowery or overblown, but richly detailed, especially when she introduces and wants the reader to keep an eye on her characters. Amazingly, she can get the reader to multitask: keep track of minute movements of two or three people at once, study objects lying about, and monitor a horse and a dog. This novel is as good as the movie will be, and I think the Glock-toting, Maserati-driver who is Raleigh Harmon could eclipse James Bond.
The undercover agent, formerly a geologist in the forensics lab, is given the false name “Raleigh David” and a make-believe aunt who owns horses to find out what’s going on. Giorello expands the expectation of thrilling pursuit to introduce a panorama of wonderfully diverse players. Aunt Eleanor spouts lines from theatrical productions; Sal Gagliardo, another horse owner, confoundingly wears both black and white hats; Charlie Babbit, aka Mr. Yuck, is the gloomy security chief; Dr. Norbert, aka Freud, is Raleigh’s dreaded weekly appointment; and wraithlike Ashley Trenner is pregnant with the truth. Closer to the real Raleigh are Demott Fielding, her aristocratic real-life fiancée, who wants to keep her under his thumb; and FBI colleague Jack Stephanson, who tracks her every move and is alarmingly direct in declaring his romantic hopes. Most poignantly giving heft to the story is Raleigh’s mother, who is confined to a mental hospital.
Scenes switch moodily from the bureaucratic conference room, where truth is necessarily fuzzy, to the bizarre cult ranch where rescued foster children have been trained to be menacing adults. It’s no wonder Raleigh takes frequent lone runs in the darkness. She is spooked by daylight in every way possible. The scenes behind barn doors come alive with danger to Sun Tzu, Loosey Goosey, Cuppa Joe and other equines. This is where the intriguing theme of geology comes into play, where mud is scraped and saved, where overly-sensitive smoke detectors are salvaged. To feed our intellects, Giorello has worked out an ingenious interplay of physics and earth science, bringing bits and pieces together in a near fatal climax that would include the end of her career. Even more commendable is that, while the average 400-page thriller can give us a few nights of adventurous displacement, and may even be brain exercise, this one reveals a strong heartbeat, which explains why Raleigh Harmon seeks more than just staying alive.
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