MORMONVILLE

Jeff Call, Author
Jeff Call, Author . Cedar Fort $16.95 (310p) ISBN 978-1-55517-618-1
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Luke Manning is a hard-boiled investigative reporter from New York City dispatched to the small town of Helaman, Utah, for a year to write an exposé of the Mormon church. Surprise, surprise: instead of scandal, Manning finds a community of heartwarming characters and his own personal salvation. This debut novel, aimed at LDS insiders, probably intends to provide some knowing chuckles about Mormon culture and warm affirmations of the gospel, but the story is mired in amateur writing. Call goes overboard in painting the "ruggedly handsome" Manning as a man of the world: his columns and articles are read by millions, he dates swimsuit models, derails political careers, lunches regularly with celebrities and is "on a first-name basis with the mayor and every other influential public figure" in Manhattan. Manning's gradual transformation in Utah is forced and lacks credibility. His infatuation with the ravishing returned missionary Hayley Woodard feels adolescent, and his willingness to take in a homeless man before restoring him to his family is far-fetched. Call's prose is plodding and mechanical, with only superficial plot development. Every purported scandal Manning discovers predictably proves to be quite the opposite. He also occasionally hijacks scenes to deliver sermons on LDS culture. At least the book is punctuated with a few humorous bright spots. Call successfully captures the quirkiness of Mormon testimony meetings and has fun with the inevitable oddballs who people any LDS ward. (Dec.)

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