cover image Higher Authority

Higher Authority

Stephen White. Viking Books, $22.95 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-670-85040-2

Nuanced, vivid characterization-especially of the right-wing fanatics who are the possible conspirators behind the nasty goings-on in White's third novel (Privileged Information; Private Practices)-makes this an engrossing thriller. Lester Horner, the first Mormon to sit on the Supreme Court, is implicated when his law clerk, fellow Mormon Blythe Oaks, is charged with sexual harassment by former employee Teresa Crowder. To help her cause, Teresa enlists the aid of her lawyer sister, Lauren, who persuades an old law school pal, Salt Lake City attorney Robin Toner, to handle the case. After Blythe is found murdered and a private investigator hired by Robin turns up dead, Teresa disappears and Lauren turns to Alan Gregory, her fiance and the hero of White's earlier novels, to help sort matters out. Is the Mormon Church responsible for the murders? The conclusion provides an ambiguous answer, but in the meantime White has portrayed the Church of the Latter Day Saints as an implacable, nearly all-powerful villain. The main plot line is relatively straightforward; it's the ancillary action and the rich characters that enliven this novel: Teresa's habit of disappearing during moments of stress; Lauren's ongoing battle with multiple sclerosis and her relationship with Alan; the secretive and fascinating Mormon church. While some readers may find White's pot shots at Mormonism offensive, even bigoted, there's no doubt that he's cooked up a thriller that will keep most of his large readership happily entertained. 35,000 first printing; paperback rights to Signet; author tour. (Nov.)