I Am a Latter-Day Saint*

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.

22 Comments

Filed under Anne Wingate, Arthur Conan Doyle, Lee Martin, Loraine Scott, Mette Ivie Harrison, Steven Kerry Brown

22 responses to “I Am a Latter-Day Saint*

  1. Mormons were treated unfairly and inaccurately by Conan Doyle; I have no idea about treatments by other authors. Any opinions?

    • I agree, Tim, about the way Conan Doyle treated the Mormons. I’ve always had that bone to pick with him. More recent authors have, I think, been more fair and balanced. Some have presented the LDS church in a very positive light.

  2. I’m not a Mormon either (though I’ve written about them). But this is a timely post since today (April 6) is the anniversary of the organizing of the church (1830) and reorganizing (1860, by Smith’s son Joseph 3rd) and dedication of the Salt Lake temple (1893).

  3. Those all would be interesting books to read, Margot. I do like to read about different religious groups in genre fiction. A good way to learn more about other religions.

  4. I think the Sherlock Holmes story is the only one I’ve read about the Mormons. Though there is a small Mormon community in Britain, it always seems like a specifically American religion – on the whole we don’t seem to go for these ‘new’ religions terribly much. I guess we have enough problems just trying to get the old ones to get along… 😉

    • I like your way of looking at it, FictionFan 😉 – And you’re right, actually. The LDS community is more American than it is rooted anywhere else. There are Mormon communities in lots of different places, of course, but it’s certainly ‘new-fangled.’

  5. Margot: Your post brought to mind a couple of books.

    One of the finalists for the 2016 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Canadian Crime Fiction Novel was A Killing in Zion by Andrew Hunt. It dealt with the darker issues of plural marriages within Mormon sects in the 1930’s.

    Craig Johnson in A Serpent’s Tooth has Walt Longmire challenged by a contemporary polygamous Mormon sect and boys forced from the sect so select men can have more wives.

    Johnson’s book introduced me to the amazing character of Orrin Porter Rockwell – Danite, Man of God, Son of Thunder – a 19th Century enforcer for the Mormons.

    Researching Rockwell led me to an article on Arthur Conan Doyle that he regretted his negativity towards the Mormon faith after a visit to Salt Lake City in 1923.

    • Thanks, Bill, for reminding me of both A Serpent’s Tooth and A Killing in Zion. Both are excellent examples of the way the LDS community is woven through the genre. I’ve been wanting to read the Hunt since I read your excellent review of it.

      It’s interesting, too, that Conan Doyle felt differently about the LDS church after his visit to Utah. I think there are plenty of cases like that, where getting to know a community makes its members more human.

  6. Col

    I can honestly say I’ve not read anything – the closest I’ve come to the Mormons and crime, would have been early exposure to my sister’s Osmond’s album in the 70s – a crime against music surely?

  7. An interesting look at LDS and how some authors incorporate the teachings into crime fiction. These are several new-to-me authors I’ll have to check out as their books sound intriguing. Thanks for sharing, Margot.

  8. I read the Andrew Hunt book that Bill mentions above, Killing in Zion – that was after reading Bill’s review! I’ve also read Betty Webb’s Desert Wives. Both these books dealt with polygamy, and breakaways sects, which are of course quite different from the majority of law-abiding members of the LDS church.

    • Interesting you’d mention polygamy, Moira. As you know, the LDS church has stood against that practice for a very, very long time. And yet, people still associate the two. There are are other sects that do have a tradition of polygamy (and I’m glad you mentioned the Webb – it’s a great example), and it’s been a real challenge for the LDS church to educate non-members about the whole issue.

  9. kathy d

    Hmmm. I read a book in Stephen White’s series about psychologist Alan Gregory, and the theme was about the Mormons. I learned a lot, but much of it was not positive. He did a lot of research and, in fact, has a bibliography int he back of the book.
    There is a lot to be skeptical about as far as I know, including the exclusions of African Americans until pretty recently. Also, I wonder about the role of women, the patriarchal hierarchy, the obedience to and inflexibility of church doctrine, intolerance of gay people, etc. And people are expected to vote as a bloc and for Mormon candidates.
    Not enough free thinking and openness.
    And when some women spoke up and criticized the patriarchal rule within the church, which was in the news, they got in trouble.
    I have heard that Betty Webb’s Desert Wives and Desert Lost are good, but they deal with polygamy which in today’s world supposedly doesn’t exist in the LDS.

    • Thanks, Kathy, for mentioning Stephen White’s Alan Gregory series. That’a well-written series that I think doesn’t get the attention it deserves. I’m glad you filled in that gap. And you’re right about the Betty Webb novels, too, so thanks for filling in that gap as well.

  10. Pingback: Writing Links 4/10/17 – Where Genres Collide

  11. Wow! I honestly had no idea about any of these books with LDS-ties in them. I’d be especially interested in reading the Sherlock Holmes one. I’ve read most of his adventures but not all. Thanks for sharing!

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