Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Prodigal Daughter by Mette Ivie Harrison

First Line: Kurt and I were in marriage therapy again.
It is a fraught time in the Wallheim household. Linda and her husband Kurt, who is a bishop in the Mormon church, are going through marriage therapy. Too many things have happened in her life, and Linda's outlook and thinking have changed. Kurt resents the changes and wants the woman he married back.
In this time of tension and stress, Linda's son Joseph asks for her help. Sabrina Jensen, the babysitter for their infant daughter, has vanished, and he wants his mother to help find the young girl. As she begins to ask questions in order to form a better picture of her, she realizes that Sabrina has been under a great deal of pressure from her parents to be the perfect Mormon daughter... and that she has been the victim of a horrible crime at the hands of her own classmates, good Mormon boys all and future church leaders.
Linda is sickened and determined to find Sabrina regardless of the cost to herself. Her search will lead her to the homeless on the dark, frigid streets of Salt Lake City, and what she discovers will make her question whether the Mormon community's most privileged and powerful will ever be called to task for past sins.
The Prodigal Daughter is often a very painful book to read, wrapped as it is in the #MeToo movement and the author's own life. Has the #MeToo movement made it easier to speak out about sexual assault in religious communities? Personally, I doubt it because it's much too easy to blame outsiders for the problem. It simply couldn't happen here, not with our good little boys raised in the teachings of the church! (Notice how I did not single out the Mormon church?)

Mette Ivie Harrison's life has become shredded due to her Linda Wallheim mysteries and her unflinchingly honest portrayal of crime in Mormon communities. I'd love to say that I'm shocked by the Mormon reaction to her writing, but after having lived in Provo, Utah, for three years, I am not. Her writing is honest. She talks about the good things the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints does. She talks about what she strongly believes in. But-- and here's the rub-- she also talks about where the Church often fails.
In The Prodigal Daughter, it's the plight of runaway and thrown-away children who either can't deal with their parents' insistence on being the perfect Mormon child or who have been thrown out because they don't live up to their parents' expectations. Harrison also paints a clear picture of Mormonism, #MeToo, and women as second-class citizens. It's not pretty, but as Linda Wallheim says, "If the truth destroys something, then it probably wasn't real to begin with."
As I said earlier, The Prodigal Daughter is often painful to read as Linda tries to find Sabrina and provide her with safety and acceptance. The truth can hurt. But it's as if all the things Harrison has been living through as she wrote this book squeezed some of the heart out of it. It feels rushed and doesn't quite measure up to previous books in this excellent series, but that does not make it a bad book. Not in the slightest. If you like mysteries that provide you with a strong, clear look into another world, mysteries steeped with a sense of place so palpable that you can touch it, I strongly urge you to read Mette Ivie Harrison's series in its entirety. Begin with The Bishop's Wife.

The Prodigal Daughter by Mette Ivie Harrison
eISBN: 9781641292467
Soho Press © 2021
eBook, 264 pages
Amateur Sleuth, #5 Linda Wallheim mystery
Rating: B
Source: Net Galley


  1. That's the thing about honest writing, Cathy. It's so hard to read sometimes, and in this case, it can bring a lot of backlash. I feel for Harrison. This sounds like a gritty book in the sense of real honesty, and I can see how parts of it could be hard to read. I give her credit for not glossing over things.

    1. I do, too. She's an extremely strong and an extremely honest person.

  2. This series is on my TBR. I appreciate honest writing and definitely like a peek into a different culture. Also, my son lives in Utah currently and is surrounded by the Mormon religion on a daily basis. Thanks for the review.

    1. You're welcome. If you read the entire series, you're going to have a very good idea of the basics of the Mormon religion.

  3. I see at PP there is an interview with Harrison, which I will watch. I am very glad she's telling the truth about Mormonism, which is often covered up.
    There are some men in prison for sexual abuse of girls; that much I know.
    And a lot came out when the state went into a Texas encampment of one sect, and a lot of awful things came out about mistreatment of teenage girls, and of adult women.
    Also, a sheriff interviewed said that he was very upset whenever a very desperate, despairing teenage boy was in his office, having been ousted from his community. He said they cry about being separated from their mothers.
    Teenage boys are considered competition for the young woman by the older men, so they're just tossed out with nowhere to go.
    This may be a few sects. I don't know if they all do it.
    I do know that Abby Huntsman, who grew up in a Mormon family in Utah, left Mormonism because of their denial of equality to women and their hostility to gay people.
    I don't know if I'll read the book, as I get upset at mistreatment of women, but I will watch Harrison at PP's Facebook page.

    1. Most of what you mentioned is about polygamist sects not mainstream Mormonism.

  4. Yes, there are sects as the one I wrote about. Maybe in Urah they are less extreme. But Abby Huntsman, who grew up in Utah, did quit that religion on women's eqquality and gay issues.

    I will watch Harriso at PP.


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