Harrison’s fifth series mystery, The Prodigal Daughter (Soho Crime, May.), challenges the patriarchal practices of the Mormon church, which she left in 2019.
How has the series changed since you started it?
Many of the changes are because of changes in the Mormon church that have happened in real time. The 2015 policy of exclusion toward gay couples and their children, for instance, was not something I foresaw when I wrote The Bishop’s Wife, the first in the series. I did originally conceive of The Prodigal Daughter before The Bishop’s Wife came out, but it was a very different story. Because the Mormon church is, in my view, very different from the one in 2012, when I wrote The Bishop’s Wife, my treatment of that church has changed. Other things, such as the movement of my lead, Linda Wallheim, away from the church, were always what I’d planned, simply because they seemed more dramatic, though I hadn’t intended to leave myself.
What’s surprised you the most about how the series evolved?
I’ve been surprised at how the series has affected my own life, pushing me out of Mormonism perhaps faster than I might have moved myself, because I was perceived in a certain way because of my being public about my questions, doubts, and criticisms of the church and its leaders. I thought I was just writing fiction, but that hasn’t been how it turned out. I am not Linda, and Linda is not me. Nonethe- less, there are some similarities in the way we think about the difficulties of being a Mormon woman.
Is the horrific sex crime at the heart of the book based on a real one?
It is. A friend of mine alerted me to a story several years ago of a similar crime at her local school and I transformed it for the book and for my own purposes. But I’m afraid there are probably many stories that are all too similar, both in the Mormon community I write about and across the world in religious patriarchies.
How have Mormons responded to your series?
I always targeted these books to national, non-Mormon readers, and honestly, few Mormons seem to have found the books, since they’re not in local Mormon bookstores. I’ve had really varied responses from those Mormons who have found the books. Some tell me they’re a godsend and a way to build a bridge to talk about certain issues across family differences. Some very conservative Mormons have blasted me publicly about the books, but I’m honestly not sure if they’ve read them or just read about them.