Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book Review: The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

Title: The Bishop's Wife
Author: Mette Ivie Harrison
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Review Copy
Content Alert: violence

Linda Wallheim is a bishop's wife. if you're a Mormon, that sentence carries with it a whole set of expectations. You probably had an immediate picture in your mind of what Linda Wallheim would look like based on the fact that she's married to an LDS bishop. Linda is the mother of many (five sons, plus a stillborn daughter), doesn't work outside the home, and lives within spitting distance of the temple in Draper, Utah. But when a woman disappears in the ward, Linda involves herself in the situation in a way you might not expect from a "proper" bishop's wife, and as the book unfolds, and more secrets within the community come to light, Harrison challenges and questions many of the stereotypes we Mormons hold so dear.

While the whodunit of The Bishop's Wife is creepy, complex, and compelling in its own right, what makes the book a 4-star read is the way it analyzes LDS culture. Unlike many of the mysteries I've read for the Whitney awards over the years, The Bishop's Wife is not necessarily written for an LDS audience (It's published by Soho press, a mainstream crime publishing house). While many authors would whitewash our culture, focusing on the positive, and others might focus only on the negative aspects of Mormon culture, Harrison doesn't paint with broad strokes. She acknowledges stereotypes and expectations (temple marriage is a side focus in the story) but she isn't heavy handed. Instead, she explores how Mormon culture can have positive and negative effects in the lives of church members. I love the way that the culture influences the mystery, and the graceful, reasoned touch Harrison uses when presenting the story, especially as seen through Linda's eyes.

1 comment:

Emma said...

I attended Harrison's launch last night, and it was interesting how much of the focus was on her religious views rather than her writing. Many people pointed out that her flawed Mormon characters are much more likeable than the perfect characters often portrayed in LDS fiction. She definitely has a unique voice on Mormonism, and I believe it has a lot of value. Anyway, great review! I always love to hear your take on books!