KRWG

Absorbing Mystery Novel Offers A Glimpse Into Mormon Utah

Jan 2, 2016

The second mystery by Mette Ivie Harrison boasts details about contemporary Mormon life that most of us aren't privy to.

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates says His Right Hand is is her "one that got away."

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Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to close out the program today by telling you about some good music that you might want to catch in the upcoming year. And we'll remember a musical icon who just passed away. But first, NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates is going to tell us about an absorbing mystery novel set in Mormon Utah.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Besides the fact that I cannot resist a good mystery, Mette Ivie Harrison's books had an added allure - most of what we non-Mormons know about members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is restricted to a few things - no Coke, coffee or booze, tithing. sacred undergarments. Harrison's books are rich with real-life details that often get lost in stereotypes. In addition to conservative Mormons, there are feminist Mormons and Mormons who support LGBT rights and who are advocating for them within the church. Last year, she published "The Bishop's Wife," a novel about a crime-solving feminist Mormon, to critical acclaim. Harrison says some Mormons were offended at her warts-and-all portrayal of their LDS community. She believes they're going to be unhappy with her new book, too.

METTE IVIE HARRISON: The second book is, if anything, more controversial and pushing a lot more boundaries.

BATES: Her heroine, Linda Wallheim, is back in "His Right Hand," and fans will rejoice to see she's still smart, observant and unbowed by her church's patriarchs. Linda and her husband, Kurt, the ward's bishop, are called to the home of the ward's second counselor late one night. Carl Ashby is bishop's right hand of the book's title. He never returned from church duties that evening, and his wife asked the Wallheims to find him. They start at church and, to their horror, discover Carl has been strangled in a church classroom. A few days later, his autopsy is released with another stunning surprise - Carl Ashby - upstanding, conservative husband and adoptive father - is transgender and apparently began life as Carla - don't worry, this happens really early in the book. So is it a crime of passion, a hate crime or something else? The church hierarchy wants to suppress the details of Carl's murder, even as Linda tries to resolve it for the sake of his family. Mette Ivie Harrison's own struggle to both answer her conscience and remain faithful are very much like Linda Wallheim's. And the fact that her opinions are anathema to some more traditional Mormons has cost her on a personal level.

HARRISON: My husband's very conservative, like Kurt in the book is very conservative, and it has certainly caused tension in our marriage.

BATES: For the record, both the fictional and the real-life couple are doing OK. "His Right Hand," has more surprises that we won't share here. But perhaps the biggest surprise is Harrison's empathy for all her characters, even ones whose beliefs she finds repugnant. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.