In his first novel, Utah writer Charles M. Larson may have written a crime thriller featuring the Mormon culture that crosses over to a broader audience.
In the best traditions of John Grisham and Dan Brown, Destroying Angel is a ripping good yarn with fully drawn characters, a classic crime thriller plot and expertly written dialogue. I marveled at the degree to which Larson shows an appreciation of his subject by the care he takes to give his characters and his story depth and complexity... Larson is a scrupulous researcher... [lending] authenticity to the book [which] makes for fun reading... taken purely as a crime thriller, it succeeds on nearly every level. Particularly as it begins to accelerate toward the climax, the story s twists and turns are fun to follow and provide a satisfying payoff.
Unlike the media s coverage of polygamy, Mormon culture and history, Larson s treatment is nuanced and complex, exhibiting a clear appreciation for Utah s past and present that few writers could.
Larson could have presented a caricature of this culture, but instead chose to go well beyond the surface to provide a sophisticated picture that rings true. This isn t "Big Love" rendered to print instead Larson takes great care to humanize his characters... Weaving factual historical references within a fictional story line that alternates between the 19th century and modern day, Destroying Angel. has an authentic feel that provides a sense of realism without sacrificing plot.
It s not for the squeamish it has a considerable body count and it doesn t exactly have a Hollywood ending. To some, this will be its charm.
As the news media inevitably provide superficial coverage of Warren Jeffs, El Dorado and similar stories, Larson s book contributes to the understanding of the unique Utah human landscape in ways that a non-fiction book couldn t begin to touch. --Roger Plothow, Editor of the Idaho Falls Post Register
I deeply enjoyed reading Destroying Angel from the first page to the last. I ve read very many books about Mountain Meadows, and while Larson s is every bit as well written as Mark Twain s Roughing It and Jack London s Star Rover, it also does a number of things that even the best non-fiction historical works fail to do.
The book is an intense murder mystery and a riveting psychological thriller all rolled into one, and at the same time it is very informative. The author s fair and balanced approach to the various Mormon factions was refreshing and, perhaps more importantly, an approach that surprisingly seemed to work. Larson has an in depth knowledge of the Mormon people that I have seldom seen. I believe Mormon and non-Mormon alike will find the cultural portrayals in the book fascinating, and both will come away with something they can feel good about.
With respect to healing the 150 year old wound that is the Mountain Meadows Massacre, I think this book will achieve more than any so far toward bringing about a welcome settlement. It may be the first accurate portrayal that both sides may accept, and if I am correct about this Larson will have accomplished something very special, and is to be commended for it. --Wayne Capurro is the author of White Flag: America s First 9/11, and is a direct descendent of Bishop Philip Klingensmith, one of the most notorious participants of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Interspersed within the chapters describing the murders, Larson offers up an unimaginably brutal account of Mountain Meadows. These were the hardest chapters to read: one can hardly imagine human beings acting in such a callous and vicious way. He collates many of the accounts currently available and produces a bloody, terrifying glimpse of what it must have been like for the Fancher party to have been gunned down in cold blood. And we even see the event through the eyes of the surviving children.
It is in the accounts of the Massacre that Larson is best at presenting a nuanced, multi-layered view of the victims and the perpetrators. Pure good and pure evil don't exist in this world; we enter into the lives of real people, and cry out for justice as the account proceeds.
In most books of this nature, fundamentalists come across as unbalanced and fanatical. Instead, Larson's polygamous families come across as perfectly natural, happy, and well balanced. I was pleased to see this change of view. Tired of the seemingly-eternal rantings against those who practice "the Principle," it was refreshing to have the opportunity to enter into the private lives of polygamous families where there is order and harmony. I'm sure this will make some unhappy, but it really delighted me.
Destroying Angel is one heck of a read. Larson has captured the spirit of Salt Lake City, the mindset of its more extreme characters, and the dubious concerns of law enforcement in a powerful parable of influence, revenge, and ultimate redemption. There's not a soppy word in this hard-hitting novel. The characters are fully fleshed out, as real as can be. The crises eat at your guts and make you wonder how evil can have such a wide influence in our society.
In short, I just loved this book. I'm so glad I read it -- and I read every word, from beginning to end. I cared for the characters, and hoped things would turn out in a way that is both believable and ultimately redeemable. --Jeffrey Needle is the Editor for the Association for Mormon Letters