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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

(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.

6 comments:

  1. I'm glad you found a lot to like in this one, Bill. I always respect an author who can teach me about a culture/religion/topic, etc. without taking away from the plot. And I give credit to an author who shows a group honestly, with both its good and bad sides, if I can put it that way.

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    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. You have aptly described the skills of the author. After finishing my review I looked around at some other reviews and was surprised that some felt she had portrayed Mormons in a negative way. Those reviewers must have thought it is heretical to have a combination of positive and negative views of the Church.

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  2. The Mormon faith is not something I'm familiar with Bill. I'll have a think about whether this is the right book for me to discover more.

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    1. Col: Thanks for the comment. I expect you will find interesting the parts about the Mormon faith. As a mystery I would surprised if it is your kind of book.

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  3. Interesting. I met someone who was raised as a Mormon in Utah, and still has some of their beliefs, but isn't an active churchgoer.

    I also know of women who left the Mormon church because they felt women are not given equal rights and treatment.

    I am wondering about Harry Kemelman's books which I am reminded about here. Is there Jewish humor? I grew up with Jewish relatives and I love the humor, philosophical yet resigned.

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  4. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. Harrison's discussion of women in the Church felt very real. There are millions of women who have chosen to be active committed members of their church.

    As to the Kemelman series I do not recall Rabbi Small being humourous. He was a pretty serious guy. I do remember there was a wry humour among the members of his congregation.


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