Sibella Giorello has made the transition from journalism to fiction with an outstanding debut novel. Her years as a features reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch have given THE STONES CRY OUT a flavor and authenticity that could come only from one intimately involved in the life of a city. Add to that her unusual knowledge of geology and extensive research into the FBI's mineralogy lab and its work in studying trace evidence from crime scenes, and you have the foundation for an exciting new mystery series. At least we hope it will turn into a series!
It's a steamy 4th of July in Richmond, Virginia, and FBI Special Agent Raleigh Harmon has been called in to investigate the circumstances surrounding the recent death of a young black man and a white police officer. Two days before, with a crowd of 600 neighborhood protesters below, Detective Michael Falcon and Hamel Holmes fell to their deaths from the roof of an abandoned factory. Since racial tensions are kept alive and well by Mayor Lulu Mendant, who benefits politically from strife, the FBI is asked to determine if there actually was racism involved in the deaths. Unfortunately, no one is talking since the community's mind is already made up; another white cop has killed a black youth.
In her search for the truth, we get to know more about Raleigh Harmon as well. Raleigh lives in her mother's carriage house and seems content in her career and her singleness. Her mother, Nadine Shaw Harmon, is a colorful character --- a seemingly lightheaded southern belle, given to wearing vibrant colors and whimsical hats. Nadine heads to Pentecostal church camp nearly every day and sprinkles conversation with praises, promises and glories. Perhaps this is the way Nadine copes with the loss of her husband to a drive-by shooting four years earlier. His unsolved death is a strong motivator that drives Raleigh to continue working cases until they can be closed.
There is also an unexpected reunion with the Fieldings, an early Richmond family with an intriguing history of its own, and with Demott Fielding, the prodigal son with whom Raleigh shares her own unpleasant memories. The Fieldings own many of the properties that are being targeted by protesters as well as the building from which the fatal falls occurred. Is there a connection? Was racism behind the deaths? How will they ever discover what happened on that rooftop?
In a style rich with analogies yet concisely written, Sibella Giorello manages to put all the pieces together for us, and Raleigh Harmon is able to put some of her own past issues to rest in the process. It is always exciting to read a debut novel and, in this case, to look forward to many follow-ups.
Reviewed by Maggie Harding on January 1, 2007
The Stones Cry Out