Not so many pages into my reading of Mette Ivie Harrison’s new sequel to The Bishop’s Wife, His Right Hand, I decided I was going to write two reviews of this novel: His Right Hand — The Positive Review and His Right Hand — The Negative Review. I wasn’t sure which I would publish first vs which I would let sit on top, but it seemed like a good method to praise what I like and discuss directly what I don’t.
But I can’t write those reviews. By the time I reached the end of the novel, I’d realized that the good and the bad of the Linda Wallheim mysteries are too interwoven to cleanly separate. My concern, however, is that by interweaving them I will be giving the negative more weight. We’ll see how it goes. Ready? more
EVERYTHING IN THIS POST IS A SPOILER more
The remarkable thing comparing my reviews ofÂ Millstone City (by S.P. Bailey, 2012) and City of Brick and Shadow (by Tim Wirkus, 2014) is how differently directed my attention was and yet how many similarities the reviews (and their books) still share.
Let’s start with the obvious. Both novels have “city” in the title. Both novels take place in Brazil’s slums. Both novels feature horrific criminal activity. Both novels incorporate missionaries breaking rules, thoughÂ managing to keep their deviance remarkably nontransgressive. Both sets of missionaries maintain an interest in fulfilling their call to preach even in the least agreeable of situations. Both adventures begin thanksÂ to a link to the criminal world via a local convert. Both novels address the reality of evil and fail to provide a purely pat ending.
Thematically however, the novels are quite different. more
EVERYTHING IN THIS POST IS A SPOILER more
I’m a bit worn down by my Bishop’s Wife marathonÂ so I won’t be giving this novel that level of attention though, frankly, I liked this one more. Both in terms of technique and story, this novel is what I’m usually looking for when I pick up a mystery. Don’t get me wrong—I did likeÂ The Bishop’s Wife—I liked how it was a cozy with sex and violence, I liked the characters and the setting, I liked the twists and the rolls, I liked the handful of plot-points left open.
But my all-time favorite mystery stories commit the crime against convention that City of Brick and Shadow commits. I’m going toÂ presentÂ several observations now which move, approximately, from least spoilery to most spoilery. Feel free to slide down to the comments if you start getting uncomfortable, or to the next section if you get bored with my bloviating on any one point.
Otherwise, welcome to an unnamed Latin American country more commonly known as Brazil!
On point-of-view and naming
As Andrew said, “it is amazing how much the author just throws the reader into the world of the missionaries, without much explaining.”Â But it’s not just things like mentioning companionship study or curfews. Take the simple matter of naming. more
A few weeks ago I wrote about the openingÂ pages of Mette Ivie Harrison’sÂ The Bishop’s Wife and lamented their overly explicative nature. Now, I made those statements form my long-standing positionÂ that we don’t have to explain that muchÂ for a nonLDS audience to understandÂ our stories, but Mette wasn’t trying to prove my hypothesis and I can hardly blame her for it. But, happily, the universe has provided another new, nationally releasedÂ mystery/thriller this December 2014 by an LDS writer about LDS characters, and now I can compare them.
Wirkus’s novel, like Harrison’s involves everyday Mormons tossed into dangerous circumstances including murder. (Note: I’m writing aboutÂ City of Brick and Shadow slightly before reaching the halfway point.Â Also, like Harrison’s book, this was sent to me gratis by its publisher. Also! Like The Bishop’s Wife, I expect to get more than one post out of this novel. So yes, I will be comparing it toÂ Millstone CityÂ at some point.)
Wirkus’s protagonists are missionaries serving in a Brazil slum, a location certainly more prone to ugliness than Draper, Utah, but still: it’s not like they put out a PI shingle looking for long-legged dames with murderous lovers to come looking for them.
How theyÂ do get into trouble is worth talking about, but all I’m interested in today is how Wirkus’s worldbuilding compares to Harrison’s and, ultimately, why it is, in one humble thopinion, better executed. more
All information, unless otherwise noted, fromÂ a promotional webpage aimed at reviewers and booksellers. It’s just what I found curious. That was my only criteria for quoting. more
The Bishop’s Wife has a lot to say about male/female relations (and a lot about marriage in particular) and about the different roles of men and women in this particular Mormon community (from which we are free to extrapolate). I’m not ready to draw many conclusions regarding justÂ what the novel is saying—that will be done better as more people read and begin debating motwaaw—meaning being, of course, ultimately, a very personal thing—but I want to provide some out-of-context quotations for your preliminary consideration.
Brethren, please check your privilege before proceeding.
Note:Â As I said last time, I willÂ correct obvious errors, marking them with [molaq] and mark likely errors I can’tÂ correct withÂ [sic]. I will note location with chapter numbers and, if necessary for purposes of this post or to prevent spoilers, disguise characters and events via substitutions enclosed in brackets or through the omission of quotation marks. Sometimes I add comments in italics after the chapter number. more