Minotaur Books, $24.99, 321 pages, ISBN 978-1-250-01579-2
I’m willing to bet that most Americans don’t know jack about Mormons, or Mormonism, or Salt Lake City, Utah . . . the heart of the Mormon empire. If they happen to be a little more savvy than their follow citizens, some few might recognize the Mormon Tabernacle choir from their Christmas concerts on television, or the BYU College football and basketball teams, and of course Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and Republican presidential candidate, is perhaps the best-known Mormon in the entire country. But most folks don’t know that Mormons do not use curse words or drink alcohol, smoke, lie or steal, that they devote two years of their young adult lives to a mission of proselytizing for the LDS Church in a foreign country chosen for them by church authorities, do not use stimulants such as coffee or tea, do not believe in nor practice illicit sex or sex outside of marriage? And, as if that weren’t enough . . . each and every Mormon tithes ten percent of their gross income to the church and is expected to be self-sufficient enough to have a two-year food supply stored at home. But those are the devout ones . . . and not all Mormons are devout . . . and that’s what makes this week’s Mysterious Book Report so fascinating.
City of Saints by Andrew Hunt is historical fiction at it’s best . . . a murder mystery that takes place in 1930 in the unlikeliest of places, Salt Lake City, Utah, the spiritual center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, known to all as the LDS or Mormon Church. The novel is the winner of the Tony Hillerman prize and is Mr. Hunt’s first work of fiction.
As the novel begins, it’s deep winter . . . February 22, 1930 in Salt Lake City. Art Oveson, a devout Mormon deputy sheriff and his partner, Roscoe Lund, a gentile with a coarse demeanor and a bad attitude, are waiting at a murder scene in the cold and snow, of a woman who’s dressed in pearls and fur. She’s a woman of apparent wealth and means, a woman whose body has been mutilated by being repeatedly run over with a heavy vehicle and left for the wild animals to find. Robbery is soon ruled out; she has money in her purse and jewelry on her person. She’s identified as a socialite, the wife of a leading SaltLake doctor, a famous, wealthy physician with impeccable credentials. The question then becomes who, and for what possible motive, would murder such a person as Helen Kent Pfalzgraf, married to Dr. Hans Pfalzgraf? But the deeper Deputy Oveson . . . a young inexperienced lawman . . . digs into the case, the more complex and disturbing it becomes. As each clue is unearthed, another aspect of the case is examined and peeled away like an onion, and a new layer is revealed underneath. Neither Mrs. Pfalzgraf, nor the good doctor are what they appear to be at first. Each and every new revelation produces new and more perplexing questions as this complex crime and investigation are artfully revealed by an excellent, new, crime fiction writer I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more from in the future. This award-winning novel deserves to be read by all mystery lovers and especially those who live in or love the southwest. Andrew Hunt’s City of Saints is one of the best books of the year. Do yourself a favor by getting to know him.