Since 1830, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), often called the Mormon Church, has been a part of the world religious community. Although it’s not a very large religious community (the LDS reports its world membership as close to 16 million), it’s a vital and active church.
Because the LDS is a relatively small religious community, non-members may not know much about it. As is the case with many smaller religious communities, there’s a sense of mystery about the LDS church for those who aren’t members. I’m not LDS, so I won’t pretend to know a great deal about church beliefs, traditions, and so on. But I do know that the LDS community makes an appearance in crime fiction.
Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories can tell you that part of that story concerns the early LDS church. Two Americans, Enoch Drebber and his secretary, Joseph Stangerson, make a visit to London. Drebber is murdered, and at first, Stangerson is the obvious suspect. But it turns out that he’s by no means the only one. Drebber had made unwelcome advances on the daughter of his landlady, and her brother could easily have been the killer. In fact, that’s who the police think is responsible. But then, Stangerson, too, is killed, and there’s an obvious connection between the two murders. Holmes and Dr. Watson investigate, and find that these murders are rooted in the past, and have to do with members of the LDS community.
Mette Ivie Harrison (who is, herself, an LDS member), has written a series featuring Linda Wallheim. Wallheim is dedicated to the LDS; in fact, her husband, Kurt, is a bishop in the church. She’s the loving mother of five children, and happy with her roles in life. Then, in The Bishop’s Wife, a fellow Mormon, Carrie Helm, goes missing. She’s left behind her family and all of her possessions. Walheim is concerned, of course, for the missing woman’s safety. But matters get even worse when she begins to discover some truths about another mysterious disappearance. Kurt Wallheim asks his wife not to get involved, but she can’t help wanting to know what happened, and worrying about what might be going on in the church she loves.
Loraine Scott’s NYC: A Mission to Die For concerns LDS Senior Elder Anthony Winter and his wife, Summer. The two are on a 23-month mission in New York City’s South Mission as senior LDS missionaries. One day, they come back to the mission after a bit of time off, only to find the body of Joseph Engstrom – nicknamed ‘G.I. Joe’ and ‘Dirty Harry’ – in the mission building. He wasn’t a missionary – wasn’t even LDS – but the staff knew him from his occasional visits. Anthony Winter is a retired L.A.P.D. officer, so he’s inclined to let the local police handle the matter, although he’s certainly happy to cooperate with them. But Summer wants to find the answers, so she starts asking questions. Together, the Winters look into the murder and find that this death is more complicated than it seems on the surface. Among other things, this novel shows readers a little of what life as LDS missionaries is like for many people. It also shows the life of a happily-married LDS couple.
PI Steven Kerry Brown’s Redeeming the Dead introduces readers to his St. Augustine, Florida PI Winchester ‘Winch’ Young. Besides being a private investigator, Young is also a devout member of the LDS church. In fact, that’s part of the reason that he and his ex-wife, Tracy, have been divorced twice. He’s dedicated to the church; she’s a free spirit. Well-known romance novelist Carla Fox hires Winch to solve the twenty-five-year-old murder of her older sister, Sarah. It seems that Sarah was on spring break from her Georgia college when she went missing. Later, she was found dead. Winch takes the case and begins to look into the matter. But it’s not long before things get very complicated. First, he finds out his client is being extorted. Then, there’s another murder, and he finds himself the main suspect. And all along, he has to balance his deep faith with situations in which he finds himself. It’s an interesting look, both at the PI business, and at life as a deep believer in the LDS tradition.
And then, there’s Deb Ralston series, set in Forth Worth, Texas. This series is written by Anne Wingate, herself a member of the LDS community (she writes the series as Lee Martin). Ralston is a middle-aged detective with the Fort Worth Police. She is also a mother and grandmother, as well as a member of the LDS community. The series doesn’t really focus so much on murders within the LDS church. But it does include a look at Ralston’s life as an LDS adherent. It’s a police procedural series, so it gets gritty at times. Yet, it’s a little ‘softer,’ if I may put it that way, than many police procedurals are.
The LDS community has a distinctive culture and set of traditions and beliefs. And it’s very interesting to see how that community and its culture are portrayed in crime fiction. These are just a few examples. Over to you.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone’s Tomorrow is a Latter Day.