Local author transfers main character to Issaquah

April 28, 2009

By David Hayes


Sibella Giorello, whose newest novel ‘The Rivers Run Dry’ takes place in Issaquah, poses in front of the welcome sign to downtown. By David Hayes

Sibella Giorello, whose newest novel ‘The Rivers Run Dry’ takes place in Issaquah, poses in front of the welcome sign to downtown. By David Hayes

Many fictional thrillers promise a main character who promises to leave no stone unturned while trying to solve the mystery. Author Sibella Giorello has crafted a main character whose job is to literally turn over stones at a crime scene — forensic geologist Raleigh Harmon.

Giorello set her first novel, “The Stones Cry Out,” in the familiar territory of Richmond, Va., where she spent more than a decade as a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist. 

Now that she and her husband, Joe, have moved their family to Issaquah, Giorello naturally had her main character, Raleigh Harmon, transferred to the Seattle FBI office. Much of her second novel, “The Rivers Run Dry,” takes place in and around Issaquah. She uncovered some fascinating aspects of the local region during her research for the new novel.

“This area has amazing geology,” said Giorello, who now splits her time between writing and home-schooling her two sons. “The basin Issaquah sits in is actually a convergence of dormant volcanoes, the path of a glacier and sedimentation running off the Cascades.”

Essentially, it’s the perfect fertile ground for a forensic geologist. Giorello studied geology in college and worked with many forensic investigators during her years as a journalist. So, imagine her surprise to find there was a field that combined the two at the FBI. With the profession set for her main character, Giorello rounded her out in an unconventional way.

“She was rooted in a strong faith, without the need to beat you over the head with her Christianity,” she said.

The first book sold about 17,000 copies, a decent debut for a new author, Giorello was told. Good enough, in fact, that larger publisher Thomas Nelson picked up the rights and inked Giorello to a four-novel contract. 

In her research for “The Rivers Run Dry,” Giorello interviewed officer Chris Wilson and former Chief Dave Draveling, from the Issaquah Police Department, rode with the Washington State Patrol for a day and strapped boots on with her sons to hit the trails in the Issaquah Alps to get a lay of the land.

“There’s this clay pit nearby, that it comes off on your boots. I was able to use the outing as a combination of a home-schooling teaching moment and as research for the novel,” she said.

In the story, a local college student goes missing on a hike and Harmon is determined to prove to her skeptical new colleagues that she can solve the mystery. Issaquah’s setting proved to be a perfect place to stage a crime.

“It’s so unusual to have the mountains so close to a city,” Giorello said. “Plus, with the history of its coal mines and other abandoned mines, it’s great historically where a crime may have happened.”

And, yes, readers will spot characters based on actual people from around town. Giorello won’t say for certain, protecting their anonymity. But there is one exception.

“My friend’s daughter once said she wanted to be a doctor. So, in the book, I named one after her,” she said.

Even though the book has only been on store shelves a short while, Giorello is already getting positive feedback, especially from former residents of Issaquah.

“I got an e-mail from a reader in Chicago who misses living in Issaquah,” Giorello said. “She wrote she could see and smell Issaquah on the pages in the book, and hopes it puts Issaquah on the map.”

In today’s landscape of thrillers that are either indifferent to the evil in the world or glamorize the gore they leave behind, Giorello believes she has carved out an untapped middle ground.

“I try to make my writing gritty and realistic without being over the top,” she said. “I’ve got a novel with a tough heroine that has a backbone. Essentially, it’s something that I would want to read.”

Reach Reporter David Hayes at 392-6434, ext. 237, or dhayes@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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