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ImageIn The Stars Shine Bright FBI agent Raleigh Harmon goes undercover at Emerald Downs racetrack to find out why racehorses keep dying and hopefully salvage her career which is under intense scrutiny by the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility. Her work creates tension between Raleigh and her fiancé DeMott who wants her to give up her work and return to Virginia with him.

Sibella Giorello creates a suspenseful and engaging mystery rich in poetic imagery. Raleigh is a complex character whose desire for truth and justice doesn’t always fit into the meticulous procedural protocol the FBI expects from her. She is out there in the field among tragedy and crime while most of the higher ups behind their desks only have an eye for protocol.

Beloved literature professor Laurence Perrine said in his book Literature: Structure, Sound and Sense “The ambiguity and multiplicity of meanings that words have are an obstacle to the scientist but a resource to the poet.” Both The Mountains Bow Down and The Stars Shine Bright are interesting and enjoyable stories that use poetry to talk about science. Author, Sibella Giorello uses a geologists’ vocabulary to guide her word choice. This gives the story’s narrator a distinct voice. Thematically, the story focuses on juxtaposing the value of human rights and animal rights against a backdrop of financial and career crisis.

The Stars Shine Bright will challenge the readers’ value of human life in spite of the costs using the richness of poetry to talk about the science of truth and justice. I’m glad I read it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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The Best American Mystery Stories of 2011
Edited by Harlan Coben
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The word mystery and perhaps all genre names, while at times helpful guideposts on the literary landscape, are loaded words. This collection of recent American mystery short stories explores the ambiguities of the mystery genre as it has each year since 1997. The collection contains stories of detectives, arsonists, spies, kidnappers, and assassins which span enough time to reflect the America that was as well as the America that is.

One thing these stories have in common is their brevity and potency. The collection’s editor Harlan Coben says in the introduction “The best short stories, like those high octane lovers, never fully leave you. They burn, linger, haunt. Some sneak up on you in a subtle way. Others are like a punch in the gut-sudden, spontaneous. They knock the wind out of you.”

Harlan Coben is no stranger to the mystery story having written 20 crime novels himself. In this short story collection there is a subtle thematic thread that ties these stories together. Harlan Coben plays the curator of this dark gallery of narratives, placing stories in balanced relation to one another. The more comical or emotionally calculated stories help balance out the visceral and gritty tales in the collection. And as the genre is explored with each successive tale so are the motley human emotions of fear, bitterness, resentment, and anger. Of course the act of murder is explored as well. Does assisted suicide become murder ? If so, when? These sorts of involved and fascinating questions are the turbulent undercurrent of The Best American Mystery Stories from 2011.

The stories are full of broken, angry, hurt people sketched with human complexity such that nobility at times shines forth from the seemingly darkest of hearts and at others the true darkness of characters’ souls will make you shudder. I found some of the content in the stories too titillating, vulgar or horrifying at times to be sure, but I also gained a greater appreciation for the intricate mystery of the human heart as well.

Some of the standout stories in the collection for me were:

Who Stole My Monkey? by David Corbett and Luis Alberto Urrea
The Hitter by Chris F. Holm
Baby Killer by Richard Lange

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley.com. <http://www.netgalley.com> I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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