Miracle in a Dry Season    Dangerous Passage

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The Rivers Run Dry by Sibella Giorello

Reviewed by C.J. Darlington

"The Rivers Run Dry is a rare gem in the suspense genre, paying as much attention to character development as to plot twists."

After writing a noteworthy debut, a sophomore novel can be an author’s bane. The pressure of the follow-up can cause writers to try too hard, and that much anticipated second book sometimes ends up a flop. Or worse, the author freezes with fear, and as in the case of masters Harper Lee, Margaret Mitchell and Emily Bronte, never publishes again.

Sibella Giorello’s first book The Stones Cry Out placed her on our radar. It won a Christy award for 1st novel and introduced us to an author whose storytelling ability and knack for description caused me to call the book “one of 2007's most compelling novels”. Needless to say, Giorello had a lot to live up to in The Rivers Run Dry. Would Raleigh Harmon remain the interesting, three-dimensional character we’d come to love?

Instead of a sophomore slump for Sibella Giorello, The Rivers Run Dry stands head and shoulders above The Stones Cry Out. It’s richer, deeper, funnier. Raleigh has just been transferred to the Violent Crimes unit of the Seattle field office, and she’s brought her mother with her. They’ve both moved in with eccentric Aunt Charlotte whose attempts to help Raleigh with her cases provide many of the book’s lighter moments.

Nineteen-year-old Courtney VanAlstyne is missing. Her very rich parents think she’s been kidnapped and since the local police are skittish of lawsuits, they’ve called in the FBI for technical backup. Raleigh expects to do nothing more than collect soil from the wheel wells of Courtney’s abandoned Land Rover, make prints of the tire treads, and file the paperwork. But she can’t help but dig deeper. A compulsive gambler, a high-stakes poker game, and VanAlstyne secrets quickly confirm this case is much more complex than first meets the eye. Will they find Courtney before it’s too late?

The Rivers Run Dry is a rare gem in the suspense genre, paying as much attention to character development as to plot twists. Even minor characters are created with Giorello’s trademark attention to detail. Take her description of a park ranger from chapter one: “I turned to see a small woman walking toward us, looking like an elf purged from a fairy tale. Her long red hair leaped over her shoulders in ropes of lava and her enormous black boots scuffed across the loose gravel shards on the ground, creating the sound of belligerent applause.”

Raleigh is a woman who’s trained to keep her wits about her, but she’s not strong to a fault like some female leads. She isn’t afraid to call for backup when needed, and she finds herself in more than one scrape due to her react-first-ask-for-clearance-later tendencies.

If you enjoyed the insider angle of Richmond, VA in Stones, you’ll agree Giorello’s portrayal of Seattle and its surroundings in Rivers is up to par. Clearly she knows of what she writes. Pull up a Google map, and you’ll discover all the locations are real.

One or two Deus ex Machina moments seemed a bit convenient, especially in light of Raleigh’s mantra of “not believing in luck”. But as Raleigh’s father used to say, “there are two kinds of people in the world: those who believe in coincidence, and those who have the courage to recognize God.” Perhaps the serendipity was Giorello’s way of showing us providence in everyday life.

There are several other welcome spiritual insights in Rivers that add depth and meaning, setting this novel apart from its secular counterparts. One passage on God’s adoptive love choked me up. And since Raleigh is a Christian, she sees the world through that lense.

From the inside of a hot FBI surveillance van to the craggy hiking trails of Cougar mountain, The Rivers Run Dry is character driven suspense at its finest. Layered with prowess, each revelation unfolds in perfect time to keep us guessing all the way to the final pages. Don’t be surprised if you finish the novel one day, then pick it up and read it over again the next.

C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.