|While the Latter-day Saint culture has generally been described positively (or at least neutrally) in science fiction and fantasy literature, it has typically been treated more harshly in the mystery genre.
Given the nature of mystery novels, this should not be surprising, because the genre is focused on the dark side of every culture and character. Mysteries are usually about solving murders. Mysteries set in New York drag their detectives through the moral underside of the Big Apple (real or imagined). They don't stop off for lengthy descriptions of "The Lion King" on Broadway or children's art exhibits in Central Park. Likewise, mainstream mysteries set in Utah (but written by non-Latter-day Saint writers for a national, non-Latter-day Saint market) typically portray their setting and resident culture negatively.
The novels on this list feature Latter-day Saints (Mormons) as the protagonist (the detective), as the antagonist (or possible suspects), or as both.
Most Latter-day Saint/Mormon characters in science fiction and fantasy novels are devout, active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even in stories set hundreds of years in the future or on other planets. In the mystery genre, however, many novels feature main characters who are lapsed Mormons, or Mormons weirdly at variance with the official Church (members of fundamentalist splinter sects, crazed fanatic killers, etc.). One thing these genres often have in common is the compulsion to portray the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a fabulously wealthy, powerful and far-reaching church which controls every aspect of life in Utah. People who actually live in Salt Lake City (where Mormons are a minority, comprising about 45% of the city's total population) will probably find much in these books laughably overblown. But, given the unique manner in which some residents perceive "the Church" as exerting influence over everything in the state, one can hardly blame these authors for finding Salt Lake a more interesting place to set a murder than, say, Topeka or Des Moines.
Not all mystery novels featuring Mormons are negative, but so many feature negative stereotypes that literary critic Michael Austin wrote:
Too many Mormon intellectuals, I believe, hesitate to call these stereotypes what they really are--anti-Mormon bigotry... Liberal academics and social activists would not for one minute tolerate mass-produced fiction that portrayed blacks, Jews, Native-Americans, or Hispanics as negatively and as simplistically as these works portray Mormons... I fundamentally believe that Mormon academics can criticize patently obvious examples of negative religious stereotypes...
It's worth pointing out the historically pivotal role of Mormons in the mystery genre: Mormons were the antagonists in the very first modern mystery novel, Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet (1887), which introduced the Sherlock Holmes character. (Years later, Doyle visited Utah, came to admire the Mormons, and subsequently wrote about them with great respect. [Source])
It's also interesting that some of the most popular mystery writers working today are Latter-day Saints. Most prominent among them is Anne Perry, an active Latter-day Saint who lives in Scotland. But she does not feature Mormons in her mystery novels, which are set in Victorian London (pre-dating the arrival of Latter-day Saints). Lee Martin (who also writes as Anne Wingate) is another nationally popular Latter-day Saint mystery writer. Martin's most popular detective, Deb Ralson, is a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who works in Fort Worth, Texas. Other mystery writers who are practicing Latter-day Saints include Leonard Tourney, Paul Bishop, Susan Evans McCloud, Steve Roos, and G. G. Vandagriff. And Latter-day Saint film director Richard Dutcher's second theatrically released film was Brigham City, a murder mystery featuring a Latter-day Saint sheriff.
This is not a "recommended reading list," either for Latter-day Saints or general readers of mystery novels. Some of these novels contain material which some Latter-day Saint readers would find offensive, either because the book was intended by the author as defamation of Christians in general or Mormons in particular, or simply because the portrayal is inaccurate or based on century-old pulp fiction stereotypes. Furthermore, although the work of many talented and popular mystery writers appears in this list, no attempt has been to comment on the relative literary quality of these works.
The only criteria used in listing items here is that they are all "Mormon mysteries": works of mystery fiction focusing on Mormons. But this is not a comprehensive list of such literature.
Most of the books on this list were published in New York. St. Martin's is the most frequent publisher. Other publishers of books on this list include Harper & Row, Houghton Mifflin, Doubleday, HarperCollins and Viking.
|Authors or Mormon
Fictional Detectives in
Mormon Mystery Novels
You can take a Mormon out of the Church, but can you take the Church out of the Mormon? Moroni Traveler, Jr., lapsed in faith but saddled with a hoplessly Latter-day Saint name, apparently hasn't forgotten Mormon emphasis on family. Nothing says "family values" like teaming up with your dad to solve murders, which is what happens in some of these mysteries set in Utah.
Fort Worth, Texas-based police detective Deb Ralston stars in Lee Martin's popular series of detective novels. Earlier novels do not necessarily deal with Latter-day Saint topics, but in later novels the detective joins the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Aside from the Deb Ralston series, Lee Martin/Ann Wingate is also the author of other popular mystery series: Tommy Inman (2 novels), Mark Shigata (5 novels). She has written numerous other novels. See also this partial bibliography.
Herringbone Tweede, the star of a short stories by Ray Davidson, is a private detective who leaves the misery of Los Angeles for Salt Lake City, where he sets up a new agency, but is frequently baffled by Latter-day Saint culture.
In Bonehunter (the fifth book in Andrews' "Flesh and Bones" series), "Hansen undergoes a kind of crisis of faith when she finds herself accused of murdering an esteemed Salt Lake City paleontologist. The resulting desert-hopping whodunit... forces Hansen into dangerous terrain, both ideological and literal, as she begins to fall for a Mormon police officer [Thomas Raymond] and ends up fighting for her life in the secret dinosaur bone-fields of New Mexico." [Source]
In An Eye for Gold, Em Hanson is still dating Thomas Raymond, and trying to decide whether she should embark on a life as a Mormon wife. The murder mystery she gets involved in has to do with gold mining operations in Nevada.
Ellen DeGeneres plays Sergeant Rita Pompano and Ray McKinnon plays her naive Latter-day Saint partner, Detective Rollins. At one point DeGeneres says she is "partnered with Brigham Young." Rollins is the only ethical person among all of the main characters, but his trusting nature and naiviete render him unable to deduce that the film's central character Sandra (Patricia Arquette) is actually behind all of the murders he and his partner have been trying to solve.
A detailed transcript of all of Detective Rollins' scenes, along with stills from the movie, can be found here: Latter-day Saint Main Character in the Movie "Goodbye Lover"
Johnny Depp plays FBI agent Joe Pistone, who, as "Donnie Brasco", infiltrates the mafia. Depp's character's boss in the FBI is an active Latter-day Saint: section chief Dean Blanford (played by actor Gerry Becker). The movie also stars Al Pacino as the low-level mafia operative that Donnie befriends and uses to get information on mob activity.
A detailed transcript of all of Detective Rollins' scenes, along with stills from the movie, can be found here: Latter-day Saint Major Character in the Movie "Donnie Brasco"
Richard Dutcher stars as Wes Clayton, who is a bishop as well as the sheriff in the small town of Brigham, Utah. The town thrown into turmoil when a two dead bodies turn up, indicating that there is a serial killer hiding among the close-knit Latter-day Saint Saint townspeople.
Apparently not a Mormon, but a former Salt Lake City homicide detective living in the ski resort town of Alta, Utah, where he still runs into plenty of Latter-day Saint influence.
Many of the situations in these books come from the author's experience as an undercover police officer, in the Idaho Police Department. Published by Deseret Book.
Published by Deseret Book, with a positive portrayal of Latter-day Saint characters. "One of Alexandra Campbell's newfound cousins has turned up dead! Alex and her colorful sidekick, Brighamina Poulsen, are Rootsearch, Inc., and they've come to England to find the legal heirs to an American meat-packing fortune accumulated by Alex's grandfather and her recently murdered father. Set in the ancient and picturesque town of Oxford, England, Of Deadly Descent is a murder mystery by G. G. Vandagriff in the classic tradition of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Alex hasn't been able to determine her grandfather's roots, and her cousins could end up disinheriting her. Apparently someone is jealous, deadly jealous, as potential heirs turn up dead." [Source: http://deseretbook.com/products/3134147/index.html]
Set in the 1800s, this novel rehashes the classic Mormon villain stereotypes from the last century: "Meanwhile, Fremont, with a serious head injury and two broken legs, has been spirited away from the site of the explosion by a dark and imperious rescuer--Melancthon Pratt, a devout and dictatorial Mormon who already claims five wives and is bent on making Fremont his sixth."
Amazon.com: "Leaphorn and Chee team up to determine whether the mysteries of an ancient Indian civilization hold the key to solving a series of bizarre murders."
"A Catholic cop and his Mormon partner face off against the infamous Mormon security operation and a man who intends to destroy the church by brutally killing its entire leadership. And time is running out for both the church and the cops. What starts as a seemingly random killing of a tourist on the Temple Grounds in Salt Lake City, soon becomes a calling card for the twisted mind of a man who has only just begun to seek his vengeance. Local cops go head-to-head with an FBI style security force, and a church hierarchy that wants no part of an outside investigation... For a living prophet of God and his twelve apostles, thirteen is a very unlucky number!"
Following the dictum to "write what you know," lapsed Mormon and SLC-based investigative reporter Rod Decker has created "Alma Cannon," a lapsed Mormon and SLC-based investigative reporter. Decker's fictional self gets to traipse through the governor's mansion, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquarters and other fun places.
"Stephen White sets his third and most richly achieved novel against a uniquely American landscape, that created by the Mormon followers of Joseph Smith in a place now known as Utah, which Brigham Young called Deseret. The sudden death of Utah's Senator Orrin Hatch propels his successor, Lester Horner, first into Hatch's Senate seat and then on to become the first Mormon associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Carried along with Horner is Blythe Oaks, an ambitious and intelligent woman who is also Horner's favorite law clerk and fellow Mormon..." Dr. Gregory must solve the case "when, suddenly, Blythe Oaks is savagely murdered in Washington D.C."
The Last Suspect: "A London businessman has been murdered and Inspector MacGregor must act quickly to save the mans 9-year-old daughter."
Storm and Deceit: Compelled by a fierce Highland squall to seek shelter in a rickety old inn, Callum and his new bride find themselves wrapped in mystery. A murdered girl, a missing student, and a band of Travelers lead Callum through a tale of deceit and intrigue as old, it seems, as the rugged Highlands themselves. With inhospitable witnesses and an odd assortment of clues as murky as the dark waters of the loch, Callum doggedly pursues truth -- and the murderer.
Robbie Feaver practices common law--the more common the better. Both cynic and self-deluding romantic, Feaver is Turow's most expansive creation. He has the needy personality of a Saul Bellow big shot and the clever mouth of an Elmore Leonard punk. Both traits come in handy when Feaver is arrested for paying off judges and decides (in about a minute and a half) that rather than go to prison, he will accept the Federal Government's deal and help cage the errant magistrates...
Robbie's foil is Evon Miller, the latest iteration of one of page and screen's most popular new types: the female FBI agent. It's a match made in Hollywood heaven. Robbie, the irrepressible con man, vs. Evon, a... Mormon with an Olympic bronze medal.
"In the mystery novel, Thy Kingdom Come, a naive-but-well-meaning Mormon prophet appoints a wealthy industrialist named Dana Sloat to be his First Assistant. Unbeknownst to the other members of the Church hierarchy, Sloat [evil]... Sloat masterminds a plan to secretly buy up the largest newspaper consortium in the country so that he can control the flow of information about the Mormon hierarchy to the public. Sloat almost succeeds in his nefarious plans, but is prevented at the last minute by an emergency meeting of the Council of the Fifty, which, we discover, has actually been meeting regularly since 1842."
M.A.: "There is no central detective in Thy Kingdom Come. This is more of an intrigue thriller than a typical detective novel. The closest thing to a detective is Eliza Hastings, a Church General Relief Society President who uncovers a major conspiracy."
A murder in Denver involving a Colorado-based fundamentalist sect that split from the mainstream Church about one hundred years ago.
There are over a dozen novels in the "Gabe Wager" series, about a hard-boiled Denver-based detective. But only Avenging Angel deals directly with Latter-day Saints.
M.A.: It is also worth noting that this novel was made into a 1986 movie called "Messenger of Death" starring Chuck Bronson.
Gabe is a lapsed Mormon and a very hard-boiled private eye. His Latter-day Saint background is frequently on his mind as he returns to Utah from New York. His love/hate interest is a reporter for the Church-owned Deseret News.
In Prophet Motive, set in a small Mormon town, a clever killer attempts to deflect suspicion from himself by making a murder appear to be the work of Mormon fundamentalists. (Michael Austin's article points out that the identical plot device is used in many other Mormon-themed mysteries.)
Sacramento private investigator Kat Colorado stumbles into a murder in Las Vegas when she finds a young woman on the highway, an apparent victim of a hit-and-run driver. The deceased is from a Mormon family in Sacramento. Her mother hires Kat to find the killer, and Kat also learns about the Church.
Springfield, Illinois, private investigator Robert Miles is hired by the Abraham Lincoln Legal Association to check out one Joseph X. Smith, who is said to have documents that implicate Lincoln in the 1844 plot to kill Smith's ancestor, Mormon leader Joseph Smith, founder of the city of Nauvoo, Illinois.
The author of this book is an "administrative law judge with the Utah Public Service Commission." He is a member of an anti-Mormon group called the Black Sheep Roster.
The protagonist, Adam Leer, is a non-practicing Latter-day Saint and an ex-FBI agent. He investigates a case involving price-rigging and Medicaid fraud. He is divorced and mostly estranged from his family, who are still practicing Church members. This book is largely without literary merit and is full of anti-Mormon rhetoric.
Online serialized novel presented by Deseret Book.
Callahan Garrity is a former Atlanta police officer who now owns a cleaning service and does some private investigator jobs part-time. Her house servant connections come in handy in this novel, which has heavy emphasis on her role as a small business owner. Callahan's task in this novel is to find a missing nanny.
Tom Jackson, former New York City detective, is one of the few non-Mormon homicide detectives in Salt Lake City. He is the ultimate outsider in SLC in this novel which pits him against a mysterious psychotic killer. A reviewer found that the book's strongest point was its thoroughly evoked Salt Lake City. While not a sympathetic portrayal, the book does delve more into the city's historical and cultural underpinings than some other mystery novels set there.
Setting: United States Congress, California Families, and some World players in the Year 2002.
Plot: A modern day United States Congressman, Craig Roberts, who, unintentionally gets caught in the midst of a vast secret combination, tries to remain low key, but his true loyalties are discovered. Seeking protection from a murderous mob out to get himself and his family, Craig does battle with big brother through an underground network of loyalist friends.
Edwards' novel is an example of something extremely rare in the world of literature: a novel focusing on the small Community of Christ denomination (Reorganized Latter Day Saints).
The following paragraphs are from the publisher's website:
The Angel Acronym: A Mystery Intoducing Toom Taggart. Little did Toom know when he walked out the River Road doors of the temple, that the oppressive summer's heat would be welcome compared to the bureaucratic heat that was about to sweep through church archives. Forgery was something new to the Saints who stayed in the Midwest. And if that was not already bad enough, an archivist would soon turn up dead, Toom would be the only one on the staff who was crazy enough to call foul play.
The author Paul Edwards, who spent years as a Community of Christ (formerly RLDS church) administrator is the ultimate insider. In his first mystery he introduces the policies and practices of a church that most Utahns will know little about. We see through the character's eyes the workings of their community and inner circles. We also sense an undercurrent of conflict between sister religions that share the same temple plot. The characters are people we know - liberals, conservatives, true believers and realists. Unlike most stories that tie up loose ends. This story lets one thread dangle. As you turn the final page, you are left to imagine the possibilities.
Murder of a Prophet: The Dark Side of Utah Polygamy tells a fictional story of one man's attempt to unite all of the polygamous groups in the Rocky Mountain in order to mount a violent campaign to overthrow the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
John R. Llewellyn, the novel's author, was a deputy sheriff for twenty-three years in the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office. Llewellyn studied Latter-day Saint doctrine and became a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He became interested in polygamous fundamentalism, married a second wife, and joined a polygamous fundamentalist group, the Apostolic United Brethren. He was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because he became a polygamist. He later left the Apostolic United Brethren. He is considered an expert on polygamous groups and has consulted on and headed special investigations. Llewellyn estimates there are approximately 25,000 people in and around Utah who are polygamous fundamentalists.