Reviewed by: BigAl
Approximate word count: 65-70,000 words
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A small town undertaker by day, Byron Starr’s “writing hobby” has covered a lot of ground in just three books. His first book, Flatheads, a collection of fictional short stories, had just come out when the space shuttle Columbia fell apart on re-entry with pieces falling all over the piney woods of East Texas, where Starr lives. This book chronicles the recovery efforts after that disaster. Starr has since returned to fiction, publishing his first novel, Ace Hawkins and the Wrath of Santa Claus. For more, visit Starr’s website.
This is the story of the search and recovery effort following the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003. As an undertaker at the family owned funeral home, Starr was involved in recovering the bodies of all seven astronauts that were on the Columbia. Although aided by Starr’s involvement, Finding Heroes isn’t only his story, but the story of many involved in that effort.
This is the kind of book that I have a hard time picturing someone wandering the bookstore or library looking for without a very specific goal, whether it is learning more about the Columbia disaster or something broader like volunteerism or how people react in disasters. Yet I’ve stumbled upon books like this, thought they looked interesting, and curiosity was enough to prompt me to try them. Sometimes what you’ll get from them is the slant or overriding theme the author was aiming for- in this case, how people pull together in catastrophic circumstances- and other times it might be something entirely different.
Near the beginning of the book, Starr described his area of Texas as “some of the harshest terrain in the country.” I looked at the mountains outside my window and said, “Who does he think he’s kidding?” From my drives through this area, I know it is relatively flat, but didn’t consider the difficulty in attempting to search every square foot over a large area through thick vegetation and a hot, humid climate. By the end of the book, I understood that there are different kinds of harsh. Managing the volunteers who come and go and coordinating the many government agencies involved in different aspects of the effort required putting together an ad hoc management structure that was in continual flux. Some government agencies have experience with this for such things as fighting forest fires or reacting to certain kinds of natural disasters, but there is no blueprint for something unprecedented, like the Columbia disaster. In the case of Finding Heroes, I got the point the author was aiming for, that ordinary people rise to the occasion and put forth heroic efforts at times like this, but also found myself in awe of the logistics involved in an operation like this one.
A small number of typos and other proofing errors.
Rating: **** Four stars