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Posts Tagged ‘polygamy’

DEATH IN THE COVENANT by D. A. Bartley: Book Review

The history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a long one, but it is a complicated one.  Many of their beliefs follow mainstream Christian beliefs–purity before marriage, strong families and communities–but many do not.

Foremost among the differences are the two that are central to Death in the Covenant:  first, a belief in a pre-existence in Heaven before birth and second, a policy long renounced by the church but still practiced secretly by a very few, plural marriages.

Abbie Taylor is a descendant of several Mormon men high in the church’s hierarchy, but following the deaths of her husband and mother she lost her faith.  She has, however, returned to her Utah home and is a member of the Pleasant View police department, hoping to regain the sense of community she once experiencd there.

Death in the Covenant opens with a fatal car crash that claims the life of Heber Bentsen, first counselor to the prophet of the church.  A witness tells Abbie he saw another car forcing Bentsen off the road and down the cliff, but he didn’t see the license plate or get a close look at that driver.

There are a number of things that seem “off” to Abbie.  The department’s chief of police is very anxious that the fatal crash be an accident and is quick to disregard the statement of the eyewitness.  The 911 call that came into the police station was from a burner phone, and the male caller hung up before giving his name.  Eliza Bentsen tells Abbie that she’d been trying to call her husband several times during the evening, but there’s no record of her calls on Heber Bentsen’s phone.

When Abbie goes to see her father, perhaps Bentsen’s closest friend, he has already heard the news from the widow.  He tells her that he and Bentsen had a rather disturbing meeting a week earlier.

Some time ago the counselor had asked Professor Taylor to keep a list of unmarried female graduate students in the department of religious studies who dropped out before receiving their degrees.  It had become obvious that there were a higher number of these women that the Bentsen had expected, and his comment to Taylor the previous week, “I can’t believe he already started,” made no sense to the professor at the time or to him or Abbie now.

When the medical examiner determines that the counselor was murdered by a blow to his head, finding the man who called in the crash becomes even more important.  In her investigation, Abbie goes through old family files kept hidden in her attic and discovers a copy of The New and Everlasting Covenant, the church’s document from the 1840s sanctioning the practice of multiple marriages.

Although polygamy was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1879, a few polygamous communities are still to be found in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and Abbie thinks that it’s possible that one of these communities holds the key to Bentsen’s homicide.

I find mysteries about religious communities fascinating, and Death in the Covenant is no exception.  Ms. Bartley’s style propels the reader along; her characters, both good and bad, are realistic, and the plot kept me engaged until the very end.  This novel is the second in the Abish “Abbie” Taylor series, and I hope the next one will not be long in arriving.

You can read more about Ms. Bartley at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.