FBI Special Agent Raleigh Harmon returns in THE STARS SHINE BRIGHT, the fifth installment in Sibella Giorello’s series. If you happened to read THE MOUNTAINS BOW DOWN, you know that Raleigh got into some hot water for bending the rules while on her last assignment aboard a cruise ship. Now back on dry ground in the Seattle main office, she is trying to stay under the radar and out of trouble. But that’s just not easy for an independent, strong-minded woman like Raleigh.
Her next assignment is to go undercover at a thoroughbred horse track. Her identity will be that of Raleigh David, the niece of elderly, cantankerous and wealthy owner Eleanor Anderson, who suspects that someone --- most likely the mob --- is fixing the races. “Aunt Eleanor” will be teaching Raleigh the ropes, as Eleanor is supposedly looking for an heir to inherit the track if and when she dies.
"Giorello maintains the perfect balance between character and plot-driven story that results in a fast-paced and engaging read. She writes in a clear, crisp manner, with smooth dialogue and a little humor, too. Each character is strong and distinct in his or her own right."
Raleigh is quickly thrown into the world of horse racing. When she tries to spend the night in the stables to hopefully acquire some information, and ends up trapped in the middle of a fire that seems to have been deliberately set, she wonders if someone is on to her. It’s not long before she realizes that there are plenty of suspects to go around.
In between solving the crime and dealing with the often difficult “Aunt Eleanor,” Raleigh attends required therapy sessions to deal with her “stuff,” including work-related issues and the fact that her mother is under psychiatric care for schizophrenia. She also continues to struggle with fading feelings for her fiancé, DeMott, who is back home and not too happy with the fact that Raleigh is working at all, let alone in such a dangerous profession. DeMott is a great guy, though, and she should be looking forward to becoming his wife. Then again, maybe she wouldn’t be so confused if good-looking Special Agent Jack Stephanson wasn’t in the picture.
In all five of the Raleigh Harmon novels, Giorello has proven herself as a wonderful wordsmith and mystery writer. She is also either an endless source of knowledge or has an incredible knack for research, bathing the reader in details that are both fascinating and entertaining. Giorello maintains the perfect balance between character and plot-driven story that results in a fast-paced and engaging read. She writes in a clear, crisp manner, with smooth dialogue and a little humor, too. Each character is strong and distinct in his or her own right. Raleigh, especially, is a character you can’t help but fall in love with. Is she perfect? No way. She is real, flawed, and motivated by issues that go well beneath the surface --- which is exactly what is needed to sustain a mystery series like this.
The mystery itself is very well done. Clues begin to appear early on and continue throughout, but don’t begin to connect until about two-thirds of the way in. Once they do, there are still a few twists and surprises to keep you guessing --- and turning pages.
THE STARS SHINE BRIGHT can be enjoyed without having read the books before it, but there are some references to previous cases, not to mention a history between Raleigh and Jack --- and Raleigh and her mother --- that could be better understood if you read them in order. Chances are, if you read one, you’ll be scrambling for the other books, so you might as well start at the beginning.
Reviewed by Lynda Lee Schab on September 19, 2012