Written by Carys Jones — Chicago lawyer Aiden Connolly, exhausted and fearing that his marriage and sanity are at risk from his lifestyle, sells up and moves south to the town of Avalon. He has been appointed partner to Edmond Copes. His new life seems to be all sunshine. He is home by tea-time, can pay attention to his wife Isla, and gets to put his two-year-old daughter to bed in the evening.
He doesn’t think twice about defending an apparent lost cause. Brandy White is a local beauty who has a trailer park history, but married ‘above herself’. Her husband, Brandon, was a football hero, and despite her looks, Brandy was considered a lucky girl.
One night, Brandy calls 911. She has stabbed her husband with a kitchen knife. Over his corpse, she confesses that she has killed him. She is now days away from a trial which will inevitably consign her to death row. Connolly visits Brandy in prison, and although he is affected by her physical fragility and beauty, it is not until he tries to collect evidence statements from the dismissive Sheriff Fern that he suspects all may not be as simple as it seems. He becomes convinced that someone, perhaps the charismatic priest Patrick West, or Brandon’s father Clyde White, is concealing secrets. The clock is ticking, and as Connolly’s days become longer and more fraught, he realises that he is facing a choice between saving the life of an innocent woman, and keeping his family together.
The book lacks location atmosphere, mainly due to a vagueness as to where we actually are. We guess it is in the Deep South, probably Texas, but in truth we could be almost anywhere. There are typos and formatting glitches which are only minor distractions, but are still disappointing to find in a printed edition. I was never totally convinced by the dialogue; American writers get it right naturally, but it is more of a challenge for a British author to master the curves and rhythms of how Americans speak. While I am a hater of intrusive phonetic speech, some of the spoken exchanges between Aiden and the other characters sounded off-key.
Those are minor quibbles, but unfortunately the wheels of credibility all but come off in the final 40 pages of the book. Aiden Connolly is a lawyer, so one might expect some of the conventions of the legal thriller to be present, at least in the trial scene. Instead, we find him defending the hapless Brandy with no other legal assistance. If there is a DA present, we don’t hear how he or she presents the evidence against the accused, the judge barely makes an appearance, and there is no sign of the defender acknowledging the jury who hold Brandy’s life in their hands.
This being said, Not All Stars Sparkle is a good read, despite the ending. The most assured writing in the story is in the description of Aiden’s home life. The corrosion of his relationship with Isla, as he becomes emotionally involved with his client, is starkly and painfully described. Isla’s jealousy seems understandable as she and little Meegan have to face the backlash over her husband’s decision to blacken the name of Avalon’s favourite martyr. Aiden Connolly is a straightforward, decent and credible character. There is a refreshing lack of the over-artful ambiguity that some authors employ when they try to be too clever; the plot is deceptively simple, and although there had to be a twist in the end, I didn’t see it coming. This is an encouraging debut novel by Carys Jones, who has the potential to be a fine writer.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars