Title: The Bishop’s Wife
Author: Mette Ivie Harrison
Release Date: December 30, 2014
Publisher: Soho Crime
Genre: Mystery, Cultural Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Linda Wallheim is the wife of a bishop living in a tight-knit Mormon community. People see Linda and her husband as pillars of the community, as examples to follow, and Linda does her best to do what is expected of her. But Linda has issues with the confining strictures of the Mormon Church, and when a young woman named Carrie Helm seemingly abandons her husband, Jared, and daughter, Linda can’t help but get involved. Linda believes Carrie would never abandon her daughter to Jared, a man with strong views about a woman’s place in the home, and Linda becomes intent on proving that Jared had something to do with his wife’s disappearance.
The Bishop’s Wife has many major and minor mysteries within it, but the real crux of the novel is Linda’s internal battle with the organization, structure, and politics of the Mormon church. The lens into the Mormon community is eye-opening and more than makes up for some minor plot and character issues the novel has.
On first glance, The Bishop’s Wife appears to be a straightforward murder mystery set within the Mormon community. Did Jared murder Carrie, or did she indeed run off on her own? This question is what sets up the basis for Mette Ivie Harrison’s novel, but it certainly isn’t the center of it. It’s merely a vehicle for the main character, Linda Wallheim, to face her own issues and to come to terms with her position, both in her community and within the larger Mormon church.
Linda is a sharp, strong woman who’s been a Mormon all her life. Her husband is a bishop, and she’s raised four children within the church; she is a devout Mormon, to be sure. But that doesn’t mean she has no issues or problem with the church. She feels like she could be a leader within her church, a voice of reason, but there is no official place for her because she is a woman. The Mormon church is also very patriarchal; Linda is expected to listen to and submit to her husband, as are all women to their husbands and fathers. While Linda’s husband values her strong opinions, she doesn’t have an official place within the community except as the bishop’s wife. It’s an interesting lens into an insular community; Harrison does a great job showing the strength of community within the Mormon church, one of its strongest attributes, but also some of the darker aspects it struggles with, such as abuse.
As Linda looks into Carrie’s disappearance, she finds herself drawn into other minor mysteries within her community in The Bishop’s Wife. All of a sudden, she begins doubting everyone, seeing the darkest possibilities everywhere. This comes in tandem with Linda’s realizations about herself; for so long, she has pushed down her issues with Mormonism and her belief that she could take a larger role in her church, if only her church would allow it. It’s interesting to see Linda’s self-doubt manifest externally, as she begins to suspect everyone around her, rather than being self-introspective.
In the end, the plot of The Bishop’s Wife, with its many mysteries, is a bit weak, though it certainly shows promise. The minor characters are a bit one-dimensional, but Linda more than makes up for it. She allows the reader a glimpse into a community that those on the outside rarely see. Through Linda’s eyes, the reader gets to see the positives of the Mormon church, but also the negatives. Linda takes a frank, hard look at the Mormon church in The Bishop’s Wife, and it will be interesting to see where her character goes next, as it appears Harrison has set this novel up to be the first in a series. I absolutely love books that give me insight into cultures, religions, and communities I’m unfamiliar with, and this novel did a great job with that.