Monday, January 5, 2015

The Bishop's Wife - Book Review

Linda Wallheim is a homemaker; a mother of five mostly grown sons; and the wife of the Bishop of an LDS ward. When a neighbor and member of the ward, Carrie Helm, suddenly leaves her husband and young daughter, Linda suspects foul play. Under the guise of the caring neighbor, Linda begins snooping around hoping to find the truth about her missing neighbor. At the same time, Tobias, another neighbor and ward member, is dying. Linda serves his grieving wife but there is something suspicious about the dying man. Now seeing herself as an amateur sleuth, Linda hopes to find evidence about just what happened to Tobias's first wife.

Set in Draper, Utah ("Mormon Country"), The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison intends to shed light on the church, it's customs and uniqueness while introducing a busybody character with an insatiable desire for digging up other people's skeletons.

I've waited for a few days after reading The Bishop's Wife to try to write a careful review of my thoughts. A review is only that--how I felt personally about the book. Reading about my own religion, even in a work of fiction, adds a complicated element. In the case of The Bishop's Wife, it's like looking at your religion through a microscope lens that is also distorted by the opinions of the author. While Harrison is a member of the church, it is clear that she and I have very different opinions and beliefs regarding a number of church doctrines.

I actually appreciated Linda as a main character (not sure I'd want her as a neighbor). A bishop's wife is not privy to all the information that her husband knows; so much is shared with the bishop in confidentiality. Yet, because of the close proximity in which she lives with the bishop, she is often aware of pieces of information. As a bishop's wife it would be hard not to try to put the clues together and fill in the gaps. Harrison's bishop's wife takes that a gigantic leap further and becomes an amateur detective--going through her neighbors' basements and sheds looking for clues. Seeing the mysteries unfold from this rather incompetent detective, allows the reader to enjoy the plot twists as Linda often gets it wrong. I really liked this aspect of the novel.

The mystery involving Carrie Helm was intriguing. There are several possible suspects and readers will probably recognize the similarity to the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell. The secrets being kept by Tobias about the death of his first wife are a bit far fetched--at the very least, the ultimate explanation is peppered with holes. The dramatic conclusion is hard to swallow and Harrison takes some liberties with reality.

The novel is definitely anti-misogynistic but strays awfully close to being anti-man. Most of the men are downright awful. The bishop is portrayed as a pretty decent guy. He appreciates his wife's opinions and frequently acts on her advice. He only slightly attempts to reign in his wife's nosiness, mostly when concerned for her safety. Yet, after a horrible discovery involving her neighbors, Linda has the following reaction: "Kurt tried to hold me, but I batted him away. This was his fault somehow. He was a man, a surrogate for Jared and Alex Helm, for Tobias Torstensen. I wanted to scratch his eyes out, and kick him in the balls again and again" (pg 209-210). Would she have a similar reaction if she had just read in the paper of a mother drowning her children in a bathtub? Would Linda have blamed all women for the atrocity?

I have no issue with some members of the church being portrayed as villains. We see the big cases in the news and we don't know what truly goes on behind the closed doors of our neighbors. Members are human and imperfect and sometimes really bad. However, most members of the church--the vast majority, I dare say--are trying really hard to live good lives; do not abuse their wives and daughters and genuinely love their neighbors.

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of Carrie Helm was intriguing and if it hadn't been so interrupted by the obvious agenda and a desire to include all the curiosities of the religion, The Bishop's Wife would have been rather entertaining.

The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrision is published by SOHO Crime and released on December 30, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Bishop's Wife. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

1 comment:

Rhiannon Johnson said...

Loved your review! I don't see a lot of fiction books containing elements of your religion and since you are the only Mormon I "know" I was very interested in what your take would be.