|Catherine Anderson is, well, Catherine Anderson. Her heroines are usually running from something and her heroes are usually saintly but wonderful men. Her formula works and at times she excels. This is one of her “excels.” Star Bright has all of her elements with one additional thing – a very taut and at times, scary suspense plot that pushes this over into keeper category for me.
Lorraina Hall Danning lost her sense of self in a marriage from hell…not just a little hell, either. Lorraina was vulnerable when her father passed away and she was taken in by a smooth talking man who promised her the world. What Peter Danning ended up giving her was abuse, demeaning treatment and ongoing lessons in finding ways to survive to avoid his wrath while he took her money and left her totally dependent on him. It wasn’t until he almost killed her that she got up the nerve to do something. And that something was to fake her death to escape, using the movie Sleeping with the Enemy as a guide. Calling herself Anna Pritchard, and with all the proper identification, she hires on as bookkeeper to a ranch in central Oregon that is run by Parker Harrigan.
Parker and his family have been featured in a couple of other Anderson tales and those family members all come into play. Parker owns his own ranch, raising quarter horses. He is a great horseman but lousy at business records. Rainie has her hands full and with more than just keeping the red and black ink straight. Parker quickly discovers that “Anna” has lied when none of her references pan out. When he confronts her, he guesses that she is on the run from an abuser, since he can see some of the signs his sister had gone through with a similar first marriage. He convinces her to stay, saying he will not turn her in. He sees a woman he thinks he can grow to love and wants to give them a chance.
Theirs is a story about learning to lose your fear and find your feet again. Parker first convinces Rainie that they can be friends and he agrees to help her learn to defend herself. One day, she meets his sister-in-law Loni, who happens to be a psychic, and Rainie’s whole story comes out. What ensues is a woman who slowly discovers her abilities and self-esteem becomes determined to confront her fears with the help of Parker, his family and the FBI. Peter is a man who is determined to get what he wants and he wants Rainie dead. While most of his “pursuit” is behind the scenes, the ending climax is chilling and terrifying. The descriptions of his evil are not for the faint of heart and are really what prompted the R rating for sensuality.
There are some parts of this story that could be lumped into the “sentimental” category, but for Anderson fans this is not new. Luckily most of these were relatively small things and didn’t cause great distraction. Parker is a little too good to be true and seems wise beyond his training in how to deal with a rather emotionally charged area of spousal abuse, but he does so in a way that shows his uncertainty about whether he is doing the right things, so it generally feels right in the end. I loved how he would counter the stories Rainie would tell to show her weaknesses with stories of his own. This made him more human while detailing for her how she acted like a normal person in such a bizarre situation. These slices of empathy helped her move on more than hours of counseling probably would have.
Over all, Star Bright is classic Catherine Anderson with a twist. I laughed, I smiled, I even had tears. But I definitely checked my doors to make sure they were locked and felt the terror the character felt. Any author who can pull that out of a reader is top-notch and pushed Star Bright right into a permanent location on my bookshelf.