MysteryPeople Q&A with Mette Ivie Harrison

 

  • Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

 

 

Mette Ivie Harrison has been one of our favorites at MysteryPeople over the past couple years, both for her psychologically astute protagonist and for her richly detailed depiction of a Mormon community. We’ve selected each of her crime novels as our Pick of the Month, including her latest, For Time and All Eternities, which continues her exceptional depiction of internal debates within Mormonism, as well as establishing her growing mastery over the genre.

We’re excited to announce she’ll be joining us to speak and sign her latest next Monday, January 24th, at 7 PM. Mette was kind enough to answer some questions ahead of the event. 


Molly Odintz: I loved the locked-compound aspect of your latest. What inspired you to do a locked-door mystery?

Mette Ivie Harrison: It was only after I’d started writing it that I realized that was what it was. I had to go back in and add a few details to make it a little more locked, like the fence around the compound, and then I had fun, playing with the more elaborate reasons not to call the police and have Linda be the detective without having to step around an official investigation.

“One of the pleasures and pains of this series is that I get to (and must) grapple with Mormonism now, which means that it is changing every moment and I have to be able to write about that in a cogent way.”

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50 Mystery Novels by Women Crime Writers, Read in a Year

  • Post by Molly Odintz

The list below is the tip of the cold, murderous iceberg when it comes to works by women crime novelists, but like any other list, it’s a good place to start.

With my yearly New Year’s Resolutions, most of which I will never revisit, I usually come up some kind of reading project, based around genres, authors, or settings I’ve neglected. 2015’s goal? Best not mentioned, as I miserably failed in my efforts to complete it. 2016’s reading goal? Read fifty books by women, and if possible, fifty works of crime fiction by women; not just new releases, but also classic noir and domestic suspense. With the release of Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s, we’ve entered a new era of publisher and reader support for crime fiction classics by women.

Many of the books below are part of the zeitgeist – you’ll see a lot of girls in the title. I’ve also tried to focus on reading some of their antecedents, and you’ll see works on the list from Dorothy Hughes, Daphne Du Maurier, Margaret Millar, Patricia Highsmith, and other classic women crime writers of mid-century America, plus a couple of golden age works from Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. You won’t find many representatives of the tough second-wave protagonists of the 80s and 90s, or many works in translation – both areas, I’m sorry to admit, I neglected in the past year.

You will find quite a few books set in Texas, and some that have yet to be released; both quirks of a bookseller’s reading habits, as we tend to dive deep into the literature of our areas, and often receive early copies of upcoming releases.

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MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: FOR TIME AND ALL ETERNITIES by Mette Ivie Harrison

Mette Ivie Harrison, with her Linda Walheim series, has made it into our top lists and our hearts. Each installment of the series so far has been an MysteryPeople Pick of the Month, and Harrison’s third, For Time and All Eternitiesis no exception. Mette Ivie Harrison joins us Monday, January 23rd, at 7 PM, to speak and sign her latest. 

  • Post by MysteryPeople Blogger Meike Alana

9781616956660At the start of For Time and All EternitiesMette Ivie Harrison’s third installment of her Linda Walheim series, the Mormon bishop’s wife is stunned when her son Kenneth announces his engagement to Naomi, a girl he met only a few months ago.  The surprise gives way to dismay when she learns that Naomi’s family practices polygamy—a practice the Mormon Church has officially disavowed, but which Linda is aware still thrives among certain fringe groups of fundamentalists.  Despite their reluctance, she and her husband Kurt accept an invitation to visit their future in-laws at their remote family compound.  

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Meike’s Top Ten Mysteries of 2016

Meike Alana truly became a trusted member of MysteryPeople this year. As author Josh Stallings said, “She looks normal, but she’s just as crazy as we are.” Her tastes run the gamut to traditional, to thriller, to noir, but as you can see in her top 10 for 2016, she has great taste. The listing is in no particular order.

  • Post by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

97803162310771. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott 

No one plumbs the depths of teen girl depravity quite like Ms. Abbott and she’s done it again in this gripping tale of psychological suspense.  Gymnast Devon Knox is a prodigy seemingly destined for gymnastics gold, and her family will go to any lengths to help her fulfill those dreams.  When a handsome young man is violently killed, rumors begin to swirl and it becomes apparent that her dreams may be at risk.  

97814516866302. The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

I’ve often thought it wouldn’t be all that hard  to adopt a new identity—cut  and color your hair, get some glasses, throw on a hat and some baggy clothes.  Tanya Dubois must do exactly that after she comes home to find her husband dead—although she knows it was an accident, she’s sure the police will suspect her so she packs a suitcase, changes her look, and heads for Texas.  There she’s taken in by bartender Blue; running from her own past, Blue soon convinces Tanya to trade identities with her and things get a little crazy.

3. Young Americans by Josh Stallings9780996948005

Throw a heist story in a blender with glitter, drugs, and disco; add characters like a stripper who learned the fine art of safe-cracking at her grandfather’s knee and a badass ex-Marine transsexual; you get a rollicking thrill ride of a mystery. Groove to the sound of David Bowie as you blow through the year’s best heist novel! 

978163388205814. The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens

When a wealthy socialite is brutally murdered, suspicion immediately falls upon her husband.  Although he claims to have an alibi, a neighbor reports seeing him at the scene on the night of the murder and he’s arrested and charged with murder.  The investigating detective is convinced the police have the right man in custody; his good friend, who is counsel for the defense, is equally certain his client is innocent.  Both men will go to any lengths to prove their position, even though it threatens to destroy their friendship.  Fantastic twists in this one!

97816338817785. The Paris Librarian by Mark Pryor

I’ve been a fan of Pryor’s Paris-based series featuring Hugo Marston, head of security at the US Embassy, since his debut with “the Bookseller” several years ago.  In this latest, Pryor tries his hand at the classic locked room mystery when a body is discovered in the basement of the American Library in Paris and Hugo is called to investigate.  Stock up on croissants, you’ll be craving them with café au lait as you read this atmospheric European thriller.

97816338812666. See Also Deception by Larry Sweazy

Marjorie Trumaine lives on an isolated North Dakota farm with her  disabled husband Hank, where she works as an indexer to make ends meet.  When her friend Calla Eltmore, the local librarian, is found dead the police believe she committed suicide, but Marjorie is certain that’s not the case and sets out to uncover the truth.  In the process she uncovers myriad small town secrets  that put her safety in peril.

97816338818397. Heart of Stone by James Ziskin

Ziskin’s protagonist, Ellie Stone, is one of my favorite characters in the genre—a  confident 1960’s twenty-something girl reporter with a taste for strong whiskey and fast men.  While Ellie enjoys a late-summer holiday at her aunt and uncle’s Adirondacks lake property, two dead bodies are found on a nearby beach.  The local police chief believes these were victims of suicide, and asks Ellie to photograph the bodies as evidence.   But Ellie believes something more sinister may be behind the deaths and becomes determined to find out what really happened.

978163388120418. The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake by Terry Shames

This latest installment of Shames’ series, set in the fictional small Texas town of Jarrett Creek, finds police chief Samuel Craddock investigating the murder of a young  woman who has recently returned to her home town after a lengthy stay in a mental institution.  Craddock soon finds himself dealing with not only murder, but multiple layers of secrets and deception that someone is determined to keep hidden.

978161695610319. His Right Hand by Mettie Ivie Harrison

Harrison is a practicing Mormon and has written an incredibly unique  series featuring Linda Walheim, the wife of a bishop in the Mormon church.  Linda’s tight-knit LDS community is thrown into upheaval when their ward’s second counselor—one of the bishops’ right hand men—is found murdered.  But when the autopsy reveals that this devout Mormon, a loving husband and father who was a pillar of the community, was a biological female, church officials seem more concerned with covering up the murder than with solving it.  Linda must step in, and in the process Harrison explores the LDS stance on gender and sexual identity.  The series provides an unprecedented glimpse inside the secretive Mormon Church and presents multiple sides to some of the complex issues its members and leaders are grappling with today.

978194422500110. Dollar Signs by Manning Wolfe

Austin attorney Merit Bridges likes her wine chilled and her men hot (and on the younger side).  In order to protect one of her clients, she goes after a shady corporation  that’s taking property from innocent people—aided by her bad-ass office manager Betty (she of the Ann Richards hair, motherly attitude, and smart mouth) , uber-fashionable paralegal Val, and investigator Ag (who wants more than friendship from Merit).  A fantastic debut, and Austin residents will have fun identifying local landmarks.

You can find all of the books listed above on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

Molly’s Top 7 Debuts of 2015

When perusing my year’s end list of favorite novels, I noticed more than a few debuts within the mystery genre on the list (some of the writers mentioned below have previously been published within other genres).  Those that made the greatest impression, I’ve collected for you below. Seven may be a bit of a weird number – think of this list as my top five, plus two!

  • Molly Odintz. 
luckiest girl alive1. Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
This may be the most startling novel of 2015. There isn’t much I can say about this book without giving something away. Luckiest Girl Alive functions as a primer in the vicious nature of social competition in all stages of life, while simultaneously remaining sympathetic to the experience of trauma.

 


2. The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

Mette Ivie Harrison writes ‘Mormon Noir,’ which I had bishops wife full sizenever heard of nor conceptualized till picking up this book on the strong recommendation of Scott Montgomery. The Bishop’s WifeHarrison’s debut in the mystery genre, follows Linda Wallheim as she helps her husband Kurt, just appointed bishop, in aiding their community. Linda grows attached to a neighborhood child, and through her investigation of the child’s mother’s disappearance, draws attention to both the vulnerability of Mormon women and the attraction of Mormonism to women.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Mette Ivie Harrison

Mette Ivie Harrison has just released her second novel in the soon-to-be-seen-as-classic Linda Wallheim series. Her crime fiction debut, The Bishop’s Wife takes the reader deep within America’s vibrant and evolving Mormon community to tackle issues of family violence and the vulnerability of women within the Mormon family structure.

Her second novel, His Right Hand, was released earlier this month, and expands her critique of Mormon gender roles to men as well as women, delving into the psychological trauma of conforming to an overly strict definition of masculinity. His Right Hand is our December Pick of the Month. Harrison kindly agreed to an interview via email about her latest novel, the future of her Linda Wallheim series, and the future of Mormon feminism.


Molly Odintz: You talk about this some in both of the Linda Wallheim novels – what, would you say, are the causes and concerns of a self-identified Mormon feminist?

Mette Ivie Harrison: Well, I am still in the midst of figuring this out. For much of my life, I have been a stay-at-home mom and have felt at times excluded from traditional American feminism because of that choice. So as a Mormon feminist, I try not to dismiss other points of view and to listen to women who are more traditional than I am as they talk about the way they see their roles within a patriarchal society.

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MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: HIS RIGHT HAND by Mette Ivie Harrison

9781616956103

  • Reviewed by Molly Odintz

Mette Ivie Harrison, Mormon, mother, and mystery novelist, burst onto the crime scene in January 2015 with her thoughtful and intense crime fiction debut, The Bishop’s WifeThe novel explores the power, privilege, and pitfalls of LDS womanhood.

Harrison’s protagonist, Linda Wallheim, a married mother of four living in Utah, aids her husband Kurt in providing religious guidance and comfort to her community. Her husband relies on Linda to reach out to those women in their congregation in need. When one of their number disappears, suspects include much of their insular community, and Linda goes on the hunt for the missing woman.

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Molly’s Top Ten of the Year, So Far

  • Post by Molly

innocence or murder on steep street1. Innocence, or Murder on Steep Street by Heda Margolius-Kovaly

Heda Margolius-Kovaly lost her family to the Holocaust, her first husband to Soviet purges, and the right to visit her native land to her defection to the United States. She also translated Raymond Chandler’s work into Czech, and his style, combined with her experiences, are the inspiration for Innocence, a bleak and hard-boiled noir about a woman who engages in increasingly desperate acts to secure her husband’s release from political imprisonment. You can find copies of Innocence, or Murder on Steep Street on our shelves and via bookpeople.com
The Meursault Investigation may not be shelved in the mystery section, but if The Stranger is considered “Mediterranean noir,” then I dub this post-modern redo of The Stranger, told from the perspective of the Arab victim’s family, “De-Colonial Noir.” The Meursault Investigation reads like Said’s Orientalism as a mystery novel, which to me is the best thing in the universe. Spoiler alert: Meursault did it. You can find copies of The Meursault Investigation on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

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MysteryPeople Review: MONDAY’S LIE, by Jamie Mason

monday's lie

Jamie Mason, author of Three Graves Full, comes to BookPeople Tuesday, February 24, at 7 pm, to talk about her new novel, Monday’s Lie. She joins us in conversation with Mark Pryor, author of the Hugo Marston novels.


– Post by Molly

Whether you’ve been reading Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Mette Ivie Harrison’s The Bishop’s Wife, or Jamie Mason’s just-released thriller, Monday’s Lie, you may notice a trend in the genre: authors are finally addressing the primacy of relationship violence as opposed to stranger danger. These three novels all explore the strange ways in which love slowly turns to hatred, and marriage becomes a battlefield with increasingly deadly reactions to ever smaller offenses.

Monday’s Lie begins with Dee, unhappily married to Patrick, and struggling to express her frustrations, fearing the loss of normality that she has worked hard to achieve. Dee’s reason for seeking a cookie-cutter lifestyle in the suburbs with a man she doubts, fights with, and possibly fears? The roots lie in Dee’s childhood, where her mother, a CIA operative gone at the drop of a hat on sometimes lengthy missions, taught Dee and her brother extensive memory and observation skills. Dee, as an adult, craves the stability and normalcy she never had as a child, and links her intensive observation skills with the unhappiness she felt at her mother’s profession. As the novel continues, and Dee’s marriage reaches a crisis point, Dee must re-activate her childhood abilities, this time not as a game, but as a matter of life and death.

Monday’s Lie is a novel of subtle, numerous ironies. The story zeroes in on how a person can ignore warning sings through the novel’s ironic depiction of a CIA-trained woman unwilling to take seriously the warning signs she can’t help but notice. Mason also explores the irony of keeping up appearances. All Dee has ever wanted was to be normal. She then realizes “normal” is based solely on the public expression of her life, and has nothing to do with who she is. By striving for normality, Dee sets herself up for the gulf between reality and appearance, a gap that grows wider as her husband becomes increasingly distant in private while presenting himself as boisterous and loving in public.

Mason has written not only a fascinating exploration of observation and deliberate ignorance, but also a darn-good thriller whose plausibility reminds us that sometimes, fear is not just paranoia, and to pretend the world, and the people in it, are harmless is to give up one’s ability to anticipate others’ actions. Mason’s protagonist is incredibly observant, and as the danger to her increases, she must come to terms with her power, and act on the things she observes, in order to preserve her own safety.

I think I enjoyed this book so much  because Mason, instead of writing a story about a woman who must learn how to empower herself, tells the story of a woman who already has agency, but must empower herself simply by being willing to use that power. Dee continually weakens herself through ignoring her own powers of observation in favor of falsely upheld notions of domestic bliss, and when she comes to terms with that which is already in her, she becomes a force to be reckoned with.

As women, we may not all have through-the-roof detection skills learned from our mothers, but we all have some knowledge, some power, that we refuse to use effectively. We may or may not feel that “normalcy” is a goal to strive for, with its implication of feminine weakness as a desirable quality, but we all could use our talents a little more, and let ourselves be blinded by our own desires a bit less. In other words, we could all benefit from a read-through of Monday’s Lie.


Jamie Mason joins us Tuesday, February 24, at 7pm on BookPeople’s second floor. She appears in conversation with Mark Pryor and will speak and sign her latest, Monday’s Lie. You can find copies on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Mette Ivie Harrison


Our January Pick of the Month, Mette Ivie Harrison’s The Bishop’s Wife, has been getting a lot of buzz. The book, loosely based on at true crime in Utah, looks at a crime within a Mormon community from the perspective of the Temple Bishop’s wife. Mette, who has penned serveral YA novels, delivered a mystery like a seasoned practitioner, fully using the form’s ability to explore a subculture and several issues. We caught up to her to discuss the novel and her approach to it.


MysteryPeople: Your story is loosely based on the disappearance of Susan Powell and the years-later murder-suicide of her husband and children. What was it about the the real crime that made you want to use it for a story?

Mette Ivie Harrison: The real disappearance of Susan Powell unfolded in Utah over a period of years, and even now that Josh (the real life husband) and the two boys are dead, no one knows where Susan’s body is. That was a great mystery to begin with.

But as a Mormon, I wondered how Josh was able to disguise himself so long within the church and why Susan was unable to ask for help. Some of the answers are the same as any abused wife, but some are tied to the Mormon doctrine of “forever families,” I think.

MP: As someone who has been involved with the Mormon Church what did you want to get across to the reader about it?

MIH: I wanted very much for Mormonism to be seen as a legitimate faith and not, as I have so often been accused, of being a cult. But I also feel strongly that refusing to acknowledge problems within the church makes us seem more secretive and less sympathetic.

MP: I thought it was interesting how it’s Linda’s skill as a mother that helps her follow what is going on. What did you want to explore about motherhood?

MIH: Of all my roles (wife, mother, author, athlete, daughter, Mormon) I feel most fulfilled and find most meaning as a mother and I wanted to write about a character who felt the same. I also wanted to write about a mother who had suffered an unbearable loss of her daughter, as I have.

Mormon culture, as most American culture, sometimes overlooks and underestimates mothers. Linda Wallheim plays on that and still is a powerful character who enacts change in her community for those she sees as her “children” in a broad sense. But it is not without cost.

MP: I thought you did a brilliant job of juxtaposing Linda’s internal thoughts with the dialogue. How did you approach a lead who felt she couldn’t always publicly say what she thinks?

MIH: That’s almost completely autobiographical. I write and think prodigiously, but don’t speak well in public for various reasons (autism runs in my extended family). All of my books in the YA world are known for strong internal monologue, though it doesn’t appeal to every reader. I think Linda loves people genuinely and tries to speak to them in a way that they can listen to. She is also only rarely confident she is right enough to act on her instincts, ignoring others.

MP: This being your first mystery, did you draw from any influences?

MIH: Linda and Kurt are named after Linda and Kurt Wallander in Henning Menkell’s wonderful series. I also probably draw a lot on the Kinsey Millhone books by Sue Grafton, who I have been reading for about 20 years.

MP: What did you take from writing YA into mystery?

MIH: YA demands quick dialog and a strong, unmistakable voice. Also I’ve spent years working on my fantasy world building skills, which came in handy depicting the Mormon world. But adult also allows more reflection, which I enjoy.


Copies of  The Bishop’s Wife are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. The Bishop’s Wife is our January MysteryPeople Pick of the Month – read the review.