(6. – 1031.) The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison -
Mormon bishop’s wife isn’t an official calling. “Bishop’s wife” isn’t a position listed on ward documents; there’s no ceremonial laying-on of hands or pronounced blessings from on high. But if the bishop is the father of the ward, the bishop’s wife is the mother, and that meant five hundred people who were under my care ….. I was used to being looked past, because I was never the person they were there to see.
In Draper, Utah Linda is the wife of Bishop Kurt Wallheim. They have 5 sons.
At 6:30 in the morning a distraught Jared Helm arrives at their home with his 5 year old daughter, Kelly. He is a rigid righteous man. He advises his wife, Carrie, has left him. Linda is grateful her husband told him “he wasn’t to blame for what happened, and that God still had good things for his future” rather than demand that they reconcile.
The Wallheim’s are part of a devout Mormon community where public and private life focuses around their faith. She is Sister Wallheim using compassion and applying logic to the concerns of the women of the ward. She reassures a mother worried that her daughter’s marriage in the church rather than being sealed in the Temple will both affect the daughter’s reputation and eternal salvation. Linda points out the sealing can take place in a year or even after death if her daughter should be tragically gone.
I know little of Mormon faith and practice. I learned a lot in this book in the same way I learned about Judaism in the Rabbi Small series by Harry Kemelman.
The responsibilities of the Bishop and his wife are unending. The Bishop carries out these duties while working full time for the position is unpaid. Kurt is an accountant. His anticipated term of bishop is 5 years.
Linda is a woman of deep faith. She believes in God despite having doubts. She has reflected and prayed and remained a believer and a committed Mormon. She does chafe over aspects of Mormon doctrine such as “the power and authority from God that was bestowed on men of the right age and worthiness”.
There are deep personal connections within the ward. They care and help each other. For some people I expect it would be smothering. The connections reminded me of growing up on the farm where there were close bonds with neighbours.
Linda is a touch restless. With only one son left at home she finds herself bored. Reading crime fiction is not enough to fill her time.
She is shaken when Carrie’s parents come to the house and advise Jared was abusive and controlling and threatened to kill her if she tried to leave him. Jared has “strange ideas” such as believing he “could make a list of women who would be his in the afterlife”.
The plea of Carrie’s mother that Linda find her missing daughter stabs Linda’s heart. Linda continues to grieve the loss of her stillborn daughter two decades ago.
Jared’s father, Alex, is as righteous as his son and certain Jared has been wronged. He is unrestrained in his condemnation of those who know and then reject the “full truth of the gospel”. They are “sons and daughters of perdition”. He states 5 year old Kelly must be “taught her place now” for he “won’t be the grandfather to a little whore”. Linda slaps his face.
At the same time another ward member, Tobias Torstensen is dying. With mysteries surrounding the death of his first wife and unexplained items, such as an old pink dress tinged with what appears to be blood, Linda cannot help but wonder if there was a violent end to that relationship.
While delving into the first wife’s death is interesting what is compelling are Linda’s deep and emotional talks with Anna, the second wife, over relationships before and after Tobias dies. They are intense vivid discussions in which Linda, for the first time outside her family, shares her sorrow over the loss of her daughter.
There are wonderful scenes where Linda talks with her sons about their lives and their faith. I can think of few series beyond Gail Bowen’s books featuring Joanne Kilbourn Shreeve that have these very real discussions, especially concerning faith, between family members as a part of the mystery.
I was struck by the number of women who live out their faith in the book. I believe too few mysteries explore the lives of women who believe in God. They have problems but are neither flashy nor dysfunctional. Harrison shows how their lives are fulfilling in an age where they get little recognition.
And then everything about Carrie and the past of Tobias is turned upside down.
The issue of domestic violence is often complex. Harrison’s continual examination of relationships challenges a reader’s assumptions.
I was disappointed that she put herself in danger. At the same time it allowed a powerful conversation with the killer. I cannot recall another work of crime fiction in which the sleuth discusses eternity with a killer.
Linda is a woman with whom it is easy to share as she listens and she cares. While her deepest conversations are with other women she is open to the confidences of men. I wish I could talk to her.