Mineralogist and FBI agent Raleigh Harmon is on an Alaskan cruise with her mother, her aunt Charlotte, and her aunt's psychic friend, Claire the Clairvoyant. Raleigh has been hired as a consultant for a Hollywood movie being filmed on the ship, in which the hero, actor Milo Carpenter, is an FBI agent. But Raleigh doesn't consider this a work-related cruise. She sees it as a good opportunity to spend quality time with her emotionally unstable mother. She also wants to take advantage of her time away from fiancé DeMott to explore her uncertain feelings about their relationship.
When Milo Carpenter's wife ends up dead, it's initially thought a suicide. But Raleigh is convinced it's murder. Proving it, though, will be a challenge. Accepting that her vacation is officially over, she dives into the case, head first. She requests assistance from the FBI, and they comply, sending the one person Raleigh did not want to see: good-looking but annoyingly arrogant Special Agent Jack Stephanson.
What follows is an investigation with more bumps than the ship endures from the endless trail of icebergs it sails through. As Raleigh and Jack gather clues and collect evidence, Raleigh is required to use her mineralogy expertise to solve the case.
The cast of suspects includes a slew of zany characters, most from Tinseltown, the land of make-believe and airbrushed tans, where the lust for fame and riches overpowers any sense of morality. The plot is action-packed and cleverly crafted. I have to say it was nice to read a mystery that kept me guessing until the very end. The suspects aren't the only memorable characters. Geert, the ship's captain, Raleigh's aunt Charlotte, and Claire the Clairvoyant provide plenty of comical moments. And, of course, there is Raleigh and Jack, whose banter is engaging and amusing. Their chemistry is undeniable, making Raleigh question her relationship with DeMott even more.
Author Sibella Giorello is a brilliant wordsmith. Besides her stunning descriptions of scenery --- you will positively long to book an Alaskan cruise after reading this book --- she has a fabulous voice and her writing is unpredictable, fresh and downright funny. Stories frequently make me smile, but rarely cause me to laugh out loud. But this one did. Several times. More than that, Giorello has the rare skill of going from funny to serious without missing a beat. A more sober subplot in this novel is the emotional condition of Raleigh's mother, Nadine, who has a psychotic breakdown on the ship. Raleigh's love, concern and the tender way she tries to protect her mom is touching.
Now for the nitty-gritty: All Christian books are not created equal. THE MOUNTAINS BOW DOWN is one of those that will probably offend a few readers. As mentioned, Claire is a psychic who never "comes around." There is frequent reference to drug and pornography use (not by Christian characters), and one female character is often scantily clad. Raleigh regularly lies to her mother (to protect her), and faith isn't openly discussed. The truth is, this book might fit better in the general market than the inspirational.
But the spiritual undertones are there. We know Raleigh is a Christian by the way she disputes Claire's beliefs and conducts herself in general. But Raleigh is also human. We live in a fallen world. Who doesn't have someone in their life like Claire? Who hasn't made "unchristian" choices? I found THE MOUNTAINS BOW DOWN to be refreshingly real and immensely enjoyable. That said, there are some who may want their inspirational books to pack more of a spiritual punch. If that's what you're looking for, you might not find it here. What this novel does offer is a fun, entertaining mystery with a great plot, unforgettable characters, and a hefty dose of humor.
THE MOUNTAINS BOW DOWN is the fourth book in the Raleigh Harmon mystery series and my introduction to these novels. The first thing I did when I turned the last page was download the other three to my Kindle. Yes, I am now a Sibella Giorello fan. I suspect once you read this book, you will be, too.
Reviewed by Lynda Schab on March 1, 2011