Sunday, February 21, 2021

On My Radar: Mette Ivie Harrison's The Prodigal Daughter


I attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. It is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/Mormons). I am not LDS, but I did not advertise the fact, and almost all the people I associated with assumed that I was. (In other words, I was not a wild and crazy young woman way back then.) The years I spent there were eye-opening, and when Mette Ivie Harrison's first Linda Wallheim mystery, The Bishop's Wife, was published I had to read it. I was stunned by Harrison's even-handed portrayal of her church, and her continuing honesty has cost her dearly.

I have consistently recommended this (now) five-book series to readers who like to learn about other cultures because, to most people, Mormonism will seem like stepping into a foreign country. The fact that there is a strong female lead solving intriguing mysteries is a decided plus as well. So... it should come as no shock to you when I was happy to see that the next Linda Wallheim mystery will be released in May. Let's find out more about it.

Available May 25, 2021!
"In the wake of the #MeToo movement, has it become easier to speak out about sexual assault in religious communities?

Linda Wallheim, who is increasingly jaded with the Mormon church, has begun marriage counseling with her bishop husband, Kurt, hoping to reconcile their household and philosophical disagreements. On other days, Linda occupies herself with happier things, like visits to see her five grown sons and their families.

When Linda's eldest son, Joseph, tells her his infant daughter's babysitter, a local teenager named Sabrina Jensen, has vanished, Linda can't help but ask questions. Her casual inquiries form the portrait of a girl under extreme pressure from her parents to be the perfect Mormon daughter, and it eventually emerges that Sabrina is the victim of a terrible crime at the hands of her own classmates—including the high school's academic and athletic superstars.

Linda's search for Sabrina will lead her to the darker streets of Utah and once again cause her to question whether the Mormon community's most privileged and powerful will be called to task for past sins.
Harrison is a talented writer whom I admire. Here are some words I wrote after attending a panel she was on at Left Coast Crime in Phoenix in 2016. They will explain why I feel the way I do about Mette Ivie Harrison.
"Mette had to fire her agent who'd insisted that she not write The Bishop's Wife. ("That made me braver than I'd ever been before.") Her father-in-law is pressuring her son to go on a mission for the Mormon Church, and-- due especially to the issues she brings up in her second book His Right Hand-- she fears excommunication daily. This is a woman who has truly suffered for writing something that she believes in with all her heart and soul. After an emotion-filled pause, Mette said, "If I knew what would happen, I don't think I would've written these books."

I don't think there was a single person in that room who didn't want to wrap her in a hug. I was (and still am) upset. I lived in Provo, Utah for three years, and after reading her two mysteries, I honestly couldn't see how she could escape some dire consequences. We may have free speech in this country, but many times it comes at a very high price."
These books (which ideally should be read in order) will not be everyone's cup of tea, but I hope some of you will feel adventurous and give one a try. They are good mysteries with fascinating insight into another culture.


  1. That must have been a really interesting school experience, Cathy. And this sounds like a great addition to this series. I do like the window on another culture and way of thinking that the series offers, and the characters seem very real, if that makes sense.

    1. They are very real, Margot-- and it was a very interesting school experience.

  2. Sounds like an interesting series of books. I've read a few based on Mormonism in the past, but it's usually the more radical side of the religion that's been featured. A nonfiction one about "lost boys" (Lost Boy by Brent W. Jeffs) comes to mind along with a novel about one of the religion's cultish fringe groups (The Nineteenth Wife by David Ebershoff). I know that neither of those are remotely akin to mainstream Mormonism.

    1. No. Sounds like the polygamist sects that live on the Utah/Arizona border.

  3. How interesting, Cathy. I was not aware of this series. Our youngest son recently moved to Logan, UT. Fortunately, he is dating a young lady from the area who has relatives that are Mormon (she is not). She was able to let him know what to expect. I was surprised to learn that it is common and accepted to ask someone if they are LDS. There is definitely a lot to learn.

    This series sounds like one that might interest me. Thanks for putting in on my radar!

    1. You're welcome, Gretchen. There is a lot to learn. One of the ways living there and going to an LDS school was so eye-opening for me was that it was my first taste of being in a minority. I found out that it does, indeed, stink.

  4. Thank you for the reminder about this series. I enjoyed the first one when my book club discussed it, and meant to read more, especially with the intent to support an author with that much courage. I'm off to my library's website ...

  5. How intereting and sad. Not everyone in a religious grouping has freedom of speech. I can think of several religions where that is the case.
    It's too bad for this writer. She sounds like a good person who should not have to suffer for having her own mind and not going along with misdeeds.
    Abby Huntsman, who was on a TV show I watch regularly, was brought up in a Mormon family. She left it because, as she explained it, their views on women and LGBTQ people. I get it.
    I think it must be very hard for women like Mette Ivie Harrison, who is observant and smart and ethical. I'm glad she's writing this series, and wish she could keep it up without being harassed or criticized.
    I don't know if this book is up my alley, but if I see it at the library system, I'll get it.


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