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The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff

Jordan Scott’s mother has been accused of killing his father.  It could be any murder mystery – until we learn that Jordan’s mother was his father’s 19th wife in a small polygamist cult in Mesadale, Utah.  Jordan was kicked out of the cult at the tender age of 14, left alone on the side of a highway for virtually no reason.  By the time this novel starts, Jordan has established himself and developed an identity, but that identity isn’t strong enough to keep him from trying to save his mother once she convinces him that she didn’t do it – despite all the evidence against her.  Paralleled with Jordan’s story is that of the original Mormon colony, more specifically the background and life of Brigham Young’s 19th wife, Ann Eliza.  She divorced him and took her story on the national circuit, making strides in the battle to force the early Mormons to renounce polygamy all together.  Of course, they didn’t complete the job, because Jordan’s family is derived from the sect that broke off after the official renunciation.

This story is told through many forms of media – in addition to an ordinary narrative in both storylines, there are also excerpts from newspapers, journals, letters, and even a master’s thesis.  All of these are fictional, of course, but they add a feeling of authenticity since some of these could have existed in similar ways, and it’s certainly not unimaginable that a member of the current LDS church would choose to research Ann Eliza.

Both stories are extremely compelling and I love the way that they related to each other.  Ebershoff thought the story through on many levels.  I suspect it would be difficult to find a non-fiction work that could better expose the evils of polygamy.  In addition, I could relate to all the characters and I loved how Jordan picked up several endearing sidekicks along the way.  They added flavor and emotional attachment to the story, fleshing out Jordan’s character as we witnessed his relations with them.  I was drawn in by Ann Eliza’s narrative, too, so it’s clear that the author can do a very good job with historical fiction in addition to his mystery storyline.  I did, however, feel a bit disappointed by the mystery’s ending.  It wraps up too quickly and a bit too neatly, in my opinion.

This is a very enjoyable book and I’d recommend it to fans of mystery and historical fiction. Buy this book on Amazon.

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