In the predominantly Mormon city of Draper, Utah, some seemingly perfect families have deadly secrets. Inspired by an actual crime and written by a practicing Mormon, The Bishop's Wife is both a fascinating look at the lives of modern Mormons and a grim and cunningly twisted mystery. Linda Wallheim is the mother of five grown boys and the wife of a Mormon bishop. As bishop, Kurt Wallheim is the ward's designated spiritual father, and that makes Linda the ward's unofficial mother whose days are filled with comfort visits, community service, and informal counseling. But Linda is increasingly troubled by the church's patriarchal structure and secrecy, especially as a disturbing situation takes shape in the ward. One cold winter morning, a neighbor, Jared Helm, appears on the Wallheims' doorstep with his five-year-old daughter, claiming that his wife, Carrie, disappeared in the middle of the night, leaving behind everything she owns. The circumstances surrounding Carrie's disappearance become more suspicious the more Linda learns about them, and she becomes convinced that Jared has murdered his wife and painted himself as an abandoned husband. Kurt asks Linda not to get involved in the unfolding family saga, but she 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?
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Very interesting debate among the readers/reviewers. However, very few of the reviews appear to be written by men. From a male perspective, I recommend the book.
1. I learned about the Mormon faith. I'm sure that not everything is spot on. But then again, not all of the details in Tony Hillerman's early Joe Chee books were correct. Nor the details in Alexander Upfield's Napoleon Bonaparte Australian aborigine books, either. I like to learn about real things while enjoying a good book. I feel I got more than my money's worth here. 2. I learned about being a minister’s wife. Some of the reviewers argue that she was privy to too much privileged information and thus the book isn't a reflection of Mormon reality. For me, the more interesting question is broader; what is the role of a clergy's (of any faith) spouse (male or female) vis the flock? Again, The Bishop's Wife got me thinking. 3. She used tools from her faith to solve the final crisis. She used her faith to solve two important final crises, tools that would not have been available to a Miss Marple or Ms. Fletcher. 4. Not everyone has a HEA. Thank goodness not every character had a HEA, particularly one female character. For you guys, an HEA is Happily Ever After. Common stuff in romances and feel good books. 5. Makes you care about the characters. When I want to keep reading a book to find out what happens to a character, the writer has hooked me. Mrs. Harrison did this with the female who did not have an HEA. (Identifying spoilers omitted.) 6. Women staying home for families. I'm a guy. I've had a professional career. But I'm married to a woman with a professional career. IMHO, someone has to stay home or cut back for the kids. In my personal case, I'm glad I stayed home for 5 years with two young children. In the book staying home with kids is not belittled. I'm pro-family but pro-women's rights. Politically, emotionally, I didn't have a problem with the emphasis. 7. One reviewer said it is "too churchy." I did not feel preached at.
What did I not like about The Bishop's Wife?
1. A little too stereotypical characterization of the men. Several reviewers comment that most of the men seem to be misogynists. There's some truth to the observations. 2. TDTL For you guys, this abbreviation is used by some FEMALE reviewers on the internet to describe female heroines: Too Dumb To Live. It describes a woman who keeps making the same mistake(s) over and over again without learning from the experiences. Here she makes bad assumptions about most of the men (and women) repeatedly. Put another way, she jumped to conclusions based on skimpy evidence. Repeatedly. 3. Not enough jaw dropping 'oh my gosh' plot twists where we the readers anticipate bad things happening to a lead character.
4. Details that stretch Mrs. Harrison's literary license too far: It seems totally unreal that this woman could get to her age (5 sons, 4 gone from home) without a few close women friends. Is it realistic that she got to her age without having a single female friend who suffered severe sexual abuse as a child? As others have pointed out, carrying the trauma of a DOA child for 20 years seems ... unlikely in a woman of faith.
My disclaimer: I bought the audible version of the book; I wasn't given. free copy I'm not a writer nor in the book business nor a friend of the author. I was not asked to review The Bishop's Wife. Thus, I have no conflicts of interest to disclose.
This book is well written and I found the explorations and description of the Mormon culture and customs fascinating.
A few weeks ago, I heard an interview with the author on NPR and was intrigue with the unusual setting of the story. This is the first adult novel by Mette Ivie Harrison, who apparently is already well known in the world of young adult fantasy romance.
Linda Wallheim, who is the title character and narrator of the book, is a 50 something mother of 5 boys and the Bishop's wife. Kurt, her husband is an accountant and the Bishop of their ward(congregation).
The book is both a mystery novel, that deals with the investigation of two murders that, at times seem pretty implausible, as well as a window into the Mormon church, its culture, doctrine, rituals and practices.
As a mystery, the story seems to stretch far longer than necessary and the way the plot(s) develop are not in my opinion, intriguing enough to consider it a "page turner".
Linda becomes very involved in the investigation over the mysterious disappearance of Kelly Helm, a young wife that is part of her ward after Kelly's husband pays Linda a visit. This is one of the two crime stories that are explored throughout the novel.
There are several characters and subplots, most of which include very chauvinistic men, that are in one way or another involved in the mistreatment, abuse, rape and even killing of women. My guess is that many Mormons, particularly men, might find the book's characterization of the male genre perhaps too one-sided.
The novel also provides lots of details into Mormon culture, traditions and rituals. These descriptions might be culturally chocking for many readers, including me. I have to acknowledge my own bias, since as a someone that was raised within a Protestant tradition, I was taught that Mormonism was a not part of what is considered "mainstream Christianity". This perception appears to be changing somehow in the last few years as more high profile Mormons become part of our culture, politics, etc. and I think this is all for the better.
Linda herself seem to acknowledge this characterization and sometimes appears to be conflicted about her faith and they way Mormons are perceived by many in our society. I also appreciate the fact that the author allows this character to show doubts about her beliefs, and even once in a while show some sense of humor by acknowledging how odd some of these beliefs might appeared to someone outside of her church (Special Underwear alert!!). Personally I don't think this is unique to the Mormon faith and most of us can probably find "quirky" practices on any religion.
Also on the positive side, the book explores important social issues that are still so relevant today and that obviously not limited to Mormon culture, such as domestic violence, rape and anti-gay sentiments.
At times Linda can be obnoxious and very bad a reading people!, her inner dialogue through the book drove me crazy sometimes, but she is also a wonderful wife and mother, loyal friend, supportive and a generous spirit.
Linda still aches for her(stillborn) daughter and is very emotionally affected by this loss. But now that her youngest son is about to finish high school and probably leave the nest for good, she is a middle age woman looking ahead to the next chapter on her life and perhaps finally learn how to put aside this painful chapter of her life.
I noticed that the book is described as a "Linda Wallheim novel", which seems to suggest that this is the first book in the series. I haven't made up my mind yet as to whether or not I'll give the author another try but I suggest that readers that are interested in Mysteries with a different flavor might want to give this one a try.
I should also add that Kristen Potter, the audiobook narrator did a wonderful job as usual.