In that moment I felt pity for her, a woman whose spiritual quest was destined to circle back to hopelessness and despair. She searched without listening. She wanted truth only if it was convenient. But something bothered me even more. Who was more despicable, Claire the lost soul, are the one manipulating her?
Special Agent Raleigh Harmon has been a lot of places in her career with the FBI. Since author Sibella Giorello first introduced us to Raleigh in The Stones Cry Out, she has been shuttled from Virginia to Seattle and back again because of various issues with superiors. Now engaged, Raleigh is still battling a certain restlessness as she embarks, minus her fiancé, on a cruise to Alaska with her mentally failing mother, her caring but misguided Aunt, and her aunt’s wacked out new age clairvoyant friend by the name of Claire. That’s right, Claire the Clairvoyant. While that and other snippets of The Mountains Bow Down are as humorous as Claire’s name, don’t mistake this story for a lighthearted adventure. As in all of Giorello’s novels, this is a tale both of an unsolved crime and of the mysteries of the human condition.
Raleigh’s vacation to see Alaska’s grandeur and escape thoughts of her approaching wedding is cut short when a woman is found hanging from the ship as an apparent suicide. To complicate matters more, the woman is the wife of an actor staring in a movie being shot on the ship. A movie for which Raleigh’s aunt is a “spiritual” consultant. What follows is a classic mystery as Raleigh races the clock to prove this was no suicide and to find a killer hiding among 2000 passengers before the ship reaches port.
At every turn Raleigh is stymied by suspects, family and the crew of the ship. The captain is so concerned with his reputation he refuses to believe there has even been a murder. The cast and crew of the movie are too caught up in themselves to care about anything else. Claire the Clairvoyant is a thorn in Raleigh’s side. And of all things, Raleigh is joined by Jack an agent who gave her nothing but grief the last time they worked together. As the case progresses Raleigh becomes more certain the killer is among them, more conflicted between her career and her mother’s failing mental health and less certain about the future to which she is committed.
Every time I begin a novel by this gifted author I always think, “This isn’t the kind of book I usually like to read.” But it never takes more than a couple of pages for me to forget such a misguided notion and find myself sucked in by Giorello’s first-person immediacy, unvarnished honesty, and determination to peel back the façade of human goodness to reveal what lies beneath. It isn’t just the vain lives of the Hollywood elite who are being exposed in this story. Raleigh Harmon, a believer, is having yet another layer of duplicity scraped away in a painful process of self-discovery. And it is the depth of her character and the power of the author’s prose that keeps me coming back.
Captain Geert’s disdainful “Arnold Swartsinagerish” pronunciation of California will amuse you. Claire the Clarivoyant’s silly predictions of the obvious will give you relief after scenes filled with painful insights into the things that unite and rip families apart. The veneer of celebrity that unsuccessfully covers the ugliness of human nature will make your shake your head. The mystery of the who, how, and why of a murder will keep you guessing. But it is Raleigh’s story that will keep you reading. She is a unique woman who is honest about her own duplicity. She wants to do the right thing, has an undying faith in the one she follows, loves her family with sincere passion and yet is still working on solving the greatest mystery of all – the mystery of the why’s of her own heart.
Reviewed by Tim George
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: March 2011
Review copy provided by Thomas Nelson
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