*the stars shine bright by Sibella Giorello was provided free to me for review by LitFuse Publicity Group and Thomas Nelson Publisher.*
the stars shine bright is the fifth book in the Raleigh Harmon Series, written by Sibella Giorello and published by Thomas Nelson. One of the best contemporary writers in CBA fiction, Sibella gives readers one of the most intriguing female protagonists in all of literature.
Raleigh Harmon is an FBI Agent on the precipice of her career. She's been in trouble before by superiors, but this time the equivalent to the police force's Internal Affairs, the OPR (Office of Professional Responsibility), is involved after Raleigh solved a murder by circumventing some law enforcement boundaries. Her colleague Special Agent Jack Stephanson, who has turned from tormentor to sometimes-tender friend, is assigned to overseeing a rare case where a high-drama older private citizen, who owns a barn full of race horses, enlists the help of the FBI with personal funding to solve the mystery of dying horses and what looks like race-fixing at the local oval in Auburn, Washington. Raleigh goes undercover as the elderly woman's niece and almost immediately Raleigh's life is threatened.
With an odd assembly of characters and the initial plot feeling like a 1930's version of horse racing, the story morphs into something entirely different from what's first expected. And it's during this sub-investigation off the track where this novel takes off and becomes the kind of suspenseful mystery we expect from Sibella. With Sibella's characteristic amazing prose coupled with exceptional wit and occasional underlying humor, the stars shine bright does in fact shine brightest when it's not engaged at the track.
Raleigh Harmon, as I noted, is one of the best female heroines in contemporary fiction. The widespread spectrum of her personality presents a character whose sharp intellect collides with her vulnerability and whose courage often interferes with her common sense. Her mother's damaged pysche and her father's absence make her hardened sister's cold distance and her goofy Aunt Charlotte's New Age religion pile on to her loneliness. Her raw honesty interferes with her professional need to lie. Her wealthy fiancé DeMott Fielding offers genuine southern comfort, but Raleigh needs true passion. Her faith strains with her own weaknesses but remains firm. If you want to read a series where you can get involved with an authentic character, start from the beginning with The Stones Cry Out and read through all of Sibella's novels in this series.
the stars shine bright is at its best when Raleigh and Jack are bantering and bickering, when we see the gut-wrenching conflict Raleigh feels as DeMott comes for a brief visit, when we hear the internal dialogue of Raleigh Harmon, and when we watch her risk it all to solve this critical crime which isn't what it seems.
Having worked over half my life at the racetrack, the frequent errors in portraying horse racing terms, situations, and overall plausibility were difficult for me. From the lower case "thoroughbred" which an editor with no knowledge of the sport would insist upon and is wrong to do so, suffice it to say, as a veteran of horse racing, these things came hard for me. That's why the story is best when off the track and away from the horses. That's where this novel shines. The final scenes in this story will jerk on your emotions, and, if you're anything like me, they'll bring you to tears.
I look forward to the next Raleigh Harmon novel as a new facet of her life begins.
Father, I pray your multiple and abundant blessings over Sibella and her family. I pray you would bring comfort, insights, revelation knowledge, and your joy to her. I ask that your inspiration would follow her and your provision would be made for her writing time. Please keep her safe from all harm. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.