The Bishop’s Wife (A Linda Wallheim Novel) by Mette Ivie Harrison

The Bishop's Wife

Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

When Carrie Helm walked out and left her family in the middle of the night, the Mormon community of Draper, Utah was stunned. Wives did not leave their husbands. Mothers most definitely did not leave their children. Yet Carrie had done both.

The book opens with Carrie’s husband, Jared and their 5 year old daughter Kelly showing up at Bishop Wallheim’s house early one morning. Jared had come to inform the Bishop that Carrie had left them and to seek both advice and help. While Kurt Wallheim spoke to Jared, Linda, his wife cared for Kelly. When Jared and Kelly left, Kurt and Linda compared notes. Kurt tended to accept Jared’s version of what had happened completely at first, but even from the beginning, Linda sensed there was more to the story than Jared had shared. As a mother, she could not fathom what would cause such a vibrant young mother to leave her daughter behind.

Certainly the focus of the book is why did Carrie Helm leave and where did she go, but there is yet another mystery that unfolds slowly throughout the book-one that I found even more interesting than the Carrie Helm story. Readers also get to follow along with the Bishop’s wife as she helps Anna Torstensen cope with the failing health of her husband Tobias while the two women try to unravel the mystery surrounding Tobias’s first wife Helena.

This book is marketed under the SOHO Crime label. It is crime fiction, but it is so much more than that. Told through Linda Wallheim’s point of view, readers are taken behind the scenes into the Mormon faith. In her role as the Bishop’s wife, Linda is expected to act as a sort of mother to the community. She can go into the homes of the families in the ward bearing gifts of homemade bread or sweet rolls and see a side of things that the Bishop would never see or hear about from the men. The role of women in the Mormon faith is explored through Linda’s interaction with the community. Some of the more unique aspects of the actual practices of the Mormon faith are also explained in passing as part of the story. I found particularly interesting the concept of “Temple Sealing” of various relationships-wives to husbands, children to fathers-and that this is not an automatic part of a marriage. Harrison also comments in passing on some of the better known and more controversial parts of Mormon history.

Even without the two mysteries the book would have been an interesting read as readers follow Linda’s struggles with her faith, but the mysteries certainly add to the book. Crime fiction fans might find themselves growing impatient with the slower pace of The Bishop’s Wife. Harrison lets the events unfold slowly, setting them down amid the Mormon Church community. It really has to be that way in order to understand why the characters act as they do. This is not a book to be hurried. Readers may find that they want to pause and think about some of the issues raised. Because of the broader scope of this book, I would strongly recommend the book for book groups-the discussions could last a lifetime.

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