The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison: Book Review

January 4, 2015 Books to Skip, Fiction, Mysteries/Thrillers 18

Fiction – Mystery / ThrillerBishop's Wife, Mette Ivie Harrison, fiction, crime
Released December 30, 2014
353 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: eGalley provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Plot Summary of The Bishop’s Wife:

Linda Wallheim, the wife of the bishop of a Mormon ward in Draper, Utah and a sometime doubter of her Church’s practices, becomes consumed by the disappearance of a local housewife and mother, Carrie Helm.

My Thoughts on The Bishop’s Wife:

The Bishop’s Wife was written by a practicing Mormon and is based on a true crime (which I didn’t realize until after I’d read the book). I love a good thriller and I also loved Jon Krakauer’s expose on Mormonism, Under the Banner of Heaven, so I knew I wanted to give this book a try. Though it reminded me of a cross between Under the Banner of Heaven and “Desperate Housewives” (both good things!), I had mixed feelings about The Bishop’s Wife.

The Bishop’s Wife is more than just a Mormon mystery. It touches on the role of women and the age old topic of stay at home moms trying to establish their own identities…and, the social perceptions of women who actually do this. It’s also about women who feel trapped in lives that are considered perfect by everyone’s definition but their own. It’s these feelings (along with the general nosiness of Mormonism that I describe below) that drive Linda to become so heavily involved in the disappearance of Carrie Helm.

I loved Harrison’s portrayal of Mormonism and the accompanying anecdotal tidbits (Mormons do some weird stuff!)…
Though Linda has an unofficial leadership role in the Church as the bishop’s wife, she has doubts about many of the expectations of Mormonism and provides an excellent viewpoint into some of Mormonism’s more eccentric practices (i.e. wearing special underwear “as a reminder of specific promises in the temple to follow God” and not drinking coffee or hot chocolate).

But, it was really the book’s overall portrayal of what it was like to live as a Mormon that I enjoyed most. The church and its leaders are incredibly involved in the lives of those in the ward…to a level I found nosy and creepy. There was a lot of showing up unannounced on people’s doorsteps to “help” them or “check in on” them…and a lot of the delivering of baked goods as an excuse to intrude (or investigate, in Linda’s case). Ugh – this would drive me crazy! I also took issue with the general Mormon assumption that church attendance and involvement automatically equate to good personal character and integrity.

It seemed the Mormonism portrayed here was an example of religion gone wrong. I think religion is supposed to be a comfort to people, especially in their time of need. However, living up to the expectations of Mormonism seemed to cause stress, anxiety, and fear of judgement more than anything else for many of this book’s characters, particularly the women.

But, the mystery/thriller piece of the story was stop and go for me and felt a bit contrived.
The action in The Bishop’s Wife centers around the disappearance of Carrie Helm and two side mysteries involving other members of the ward. While the disappearance of Carrie Helm hooked me in the beginning, it lost momentum a quarter of the way in before finally regaining it towards the end. And, during the momentum dip, Linda’s nosiness and obsession with delving into other people’s issues got tiresome to endure.

I kept waiting for the connection between Carrie’s story and the other two side mysteries (there had to be one!) to present itself and it was a bit unrealistic when it did finally surface. It was hard for me to buy three separate “scandals” (see note below) going on in such a small community…it was just too much. 

Overall, I was on the fence with whether or not to recommend this book. But, given I spent about 50% of the book wondering where the momentum went, I landed on “Skip it”.  

Note: I’m intentionally being vague about the details of these scandals because I don’t want to be a spoiler!

18 Responses to “The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison: Book Review”

  1. Trish

    Interesting! I saw a chat about this one on twitter the other day–conversation between someone who is LDS and someone who isn’t–that’s when I learned this one was loosely based on a true story. Honestly, given my history with the church I tend to stay away from topics involving it (Under the Banner of Heaven as the exception), but you comments about church attendance and how to be a good Mormon really struck a note with me. Honestly I might be interested in reading this one just to see how a practicing member portrays the church.

    • admin

      Interesting – I’ll have to search for that Twitter convo! Granted I don’t know much about the Mormon church except from what I’ve read in books (including Under the Banner of Heaven), but I thought she gave a very balanced portrayal. She didn’t trash it or anything, and definitely included some positives through the character of Linda. But, she also raised what I thought were valid questions, particularly relating to women’s roles.

      • Trish

        The gal who mentioned it is @UtahMomsLife. I checked out her Goodreads review but it didn’t really go into too much about it.

  2. Ann @ Books on the Table

    I rarely read mysteries — this one appealed to me only because of the Mormon angle. I’ve read quite a bit about the Mormon church and find it fascinating. I thought the story was pretty good (kept me guessing, anyway), although I agree that it lost some momentum partway through. My disappointment with the book was the quality of the writing — lots of hackneyed phrases, stilted dialogue, etc. But I’d probably still recommend it to readers who want a (fictionalized) insider’s view of Mormonism.

    • admin

      I totally agree with you about the writing! It did seem a bit bland…and stilted is a good word too. I think the views on Mormonism were the strongest points of the book. And – I almost wonder if I’d have felt differently about the mystery portion had I known in advance that it was based on a true story. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Rhiannon

    Yours is the first review I’ve read of this book. I was kinda pushing it on Cindy @UtahmomsLife since she is the only Mormon I “know.” I was wondering if it would be any good and was waiting for her review. It’s not looking too promising based on your review but I’m glad you were honest because we all have so many books in our TBR that we need our buddies to help us along the way!

    • admin

      I’d love to hear her thoughts on it. Trish at Love, Laughter, Insanity is or has been a Mormon as well, I think. My college roommate was from Salt Lake City, but was not a Mormon…she grew up surrounded by Mormons, though, and talked about it a lot.

  4. Shannon @ River City Reading

    I don’t read a ton of mysteries (though, I do tend to like true crime stories), so I think I would probably be pulled in by the religious aspect and turned off by the general storyline, like you. It seems like this one is getting a bunch of attention, though!

  5. Tara @ Running 'N' Reading

    Okay, going to skip this one. I was initially drawn to the mystery, like you seem to have been, as well; the lack of momentum would leave me disappointed, though, I think. Thanks for another great review, Sarah!

  6. Janet M. Bank

    Sarah,
    You were right on mark with this one. I found that the story lacked cohesiveness and left too many loose ends. The writing disappointing. My advice–save your money.

    • admin

      Yeah – this one was disappointing…there were some positives, but just didn’t really come together for me.

  1. Reviews for Harrison’s The Bishop’s Wife | Dawning of a Brighter Day

    […] Sarah’s Book Shelves. Skip it. “It was really the book’s overall portrayal of what it was like to live as a Mormon that I enjoyed most. The church and its leaders are incredibly involved in the lives of those in the ward…to a level I found nosy and creepy. There was a lot of showing up unannounced on people’s doorsteps to “help” them or “check in on” them…and a lot of the delivering of baked goods as an excuse to intrude (or investigate, in Linda’s case). Ugh – this would drive me crazy! I also took issue with the general Mormon assumption that church attendance and involvement automatically equate to good personal character and integrity. It seemed the Mormonism portrayed here was an example of religion gone wrong. I think religion is supposed to be a comfort to people, especially in their time of need. However, living up to the expectations of Mormonism seemed to cause stress, anxiety, and fear of judgement more than anything else for many of this book’s characters, particularly the women. But, the mystery/thriller piece of the story was stop and go for me and felt a bit contrived . . .While the disappearance of Carrie Helm hooked me in the beginning, it lost momentum a quarter of the way in before finally regaining it towards the end. And, during the momentum dip, Linda’s nosiness and obsession with delving into other people’s issues got tiresome to endure . . . Overall, I was on the fence with whether or not to recommend this book. But, given I spent about 50% of the book wondering where the momentum went, I landed on “Skip it”.” […]

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