Wednesday, July 22, 2015

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

The Bishop's Wife Mette Ivie Harrison
Published: December 30, 2014
ISBN: 9781616954765
Genre: Mystery
Source: Library (3M Download)
Recommended for readers looking for something somewhere between a Cozy Mystery and a Thriller

In the predominantly Mormon city of Draper, Utah, some seemingly perfect families have deadly secrets. 

Linda Wallheim is a devout Mormon, the mother of five boys and the wife of a bishop. But Linda is increasingly troubled by her church’s structure and secrecy, especially as a disturbing situation takes shape in her ward. One cold winter night, a young wife and mother named Carrie Helm disappears, leaving behind everything she owns. Carrie’s husband, Jared, claims his wife has always been unstable and that she has abandoned the family, but Linda doesn’t trust him. As Linda snoops in the Helm family’s circumstances, she becomes convinced that Jared has murdered his wife and painted himself as a wronged husband.

Linda’s husband asks her not to get involved in the unfolding family saga. But Linda has become obsessed with Carrie’s fate, and with the well-being of her vulnerable young daughter. She cannot let the matter rest until she finds out the truth. Is she wrong to go against her husband, the bishop, when her inner convictions are so strong?

My Thoughts:
This is one of those cases where, even though I have some real concrete complaints about this book--and complaints that would lead me to DNF another book--I just could not stop reading this and, as much as I hate to admit this, I enjoyed the experience, even if I can't say that I enjoyed the book.

I had heard quite a bit about this book in the months since it had been published, but much of what I heard was mixed, so the bar was--well, there was no bar for my expectations going into the reading.  This is not a Cozy Mystery, but it definitely has some of the hallmarks of that sub-genre:  The somewhat of a buttinsky main character who becomes an amateur detective, a close-knit society (in this case, the LDS ward), and the relatively clean storytelling.  However, it is much darker than a cozy mystery and lacks any of the (intentional) quirkiness that one would find in those books.  The fact that this book was somewhere between a Cozy Mystery and a Thriller might have been what sucked me in.

I am not a Mormon, although I grew up in an area with a large LDS population, so I know maybe just a tad more than the basics about the religion, but I can't say I have any first-hand experience.  I did notice from other reviews that people are split as to whether this book is an accurate description of the Mormons or not.  I don't know, but I will say that the details were at least interesting, but my views of the LDS remain unchanged.

I can't say that I found the characters to be especially dynamic--Linda, as the main character, was the most developed, but I didn't really feel that she grew as a person as the book progressed.  The other characters all seemed pretty one-dimensional, which I can mostly overlook.  I did wish that she had given Linda's husband, Kurt, more personality.  I also felt that she left a couple character points unfinished--specifically with two of her sons.  It felt like she was going to explore something with them, but it never happened.

There are actually two mysteries in this book that are related thematically, although they are separate in the plot.  Strangely, it works here and Harrison handles juggling these two plots well.  Harrison's writing style isn't particularly memorable, but I didn't feel like I was tripping over her prose. I did wish, however, that she infused more emotion into her words.

Plot-wise, this book moved at a good clip.  There were plenty of twists and turns so that I stayed interested, but things did get melodramatic at the end, which was a letdown for me.  But, my biggest problem with this book was something else: victim shaming.

There was a character in this book who does a fair amount of victim shaming--I'm not saying that victim shaming is ever acceptable, but it was done as part of his character so it isn't anything I can hold against Harrison or this book.  Yet, as the story progressed--probably the last 3rd of the book or so--I would say that Harrison herself does a fair amount of victim shaming with the choices she makes about a character and their actions.  It didn't really fit with what was going on and, frankly, had it come up earlier in the book, it may have led me to DNF the whole thing.

Frankly, I'm not really sure what to say about this book.  It has problems--some I can overlook and some I can't.  The experience of reading this book was an enjoyable one, even if I can't say that I enjoyed the book once I was finished with it.  I may still recommend it, though, depending on the reader and what they are looking for.

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

The Bishop's Wife
by Mette Ivie Harrison

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