on December 20, 1999
Some of the Mormons who wrote reviews here are defending what can't be defended. Stephen White wrote a novel but he did research before he did and what he found was obviously not to the liking of the LDS Church or some of its more devout (and misinformed adherents). What White tried to do with "Higher Authority" (and I think he was very successful) was set a murder mystery against the backdrop of the workings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. What Mormon readers of this book need to do is get honest; they also need to read up on their church's history and when they do, the real theology should come through. Alan Gregory is not the main character here, Lauren Crowder is. It is what she investigates and finds that makes for the backdrop of the story. What many non-Mormon readers don't realize is what exactly LDS members believe. White gives us a primer but he doesn't cover it all. If most people knew just exactly what Mormons believe, they would never, ever become adherents. Read this book because it's a good story. After you do, go to a Christian bookstore to the section on "cults" and buy any of the books on MORMONS. Read with an open mind and when you do, you'll find that Mormons aren't Christians at all. They mean well and Stephen White points that out in his novel. But it's the negative exposure that has the Mormons trying to explain away the inconsistencies and outright falsehoods that are part of their false doctrine. Stephen White lives in a part of the country where Mormons are numerous and influential. His riting is all the more courageous because of that. There are documented cases of people making death threats to people who write and say negative things about the LDS Church. I have spoken to non-Mormon friends from Utah and they HAVE told me that UTAH is as close to a theocracy as one gets in the good old USA. Read "Higher Authority" and get an idea why.
on September 20, 2002
The hook in this book is Mormondom. If you're not interested in that, you probably won't like Higher Authority.
Just to be clear about where I'm coming from, I'm not a Mormon, nor would I ever consider becoming one, given what I know about their beliefs and practices, which is quite a lot. As a Catholic-minded Christian interested in other religions, I have spent a good deal of time looking into Mormonism. It is true, for example, that Mormons at one time practiced blood atonement, as described in the book. It is also true that they wear special temple undergarments. Mormons also believe that God was once a man, and that men can become Gods, ruling over other planets as God rules over ours. One of their theologians put it this way: "As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become."
Those at this site who have objected to the book's depiction of Mormonism, calling it "Mormon bashing," have not specifically stated where the author has misrepresented Mormonism. Not in the area of beliefs, at least as far as I can discern. It is also well-known that the Mormon Church discourages critical investigation of its origins, history, beliefs, and practices. Unlike Christianity (and I do not consider Mormonism a part of Christianity), which has allowed itself to be subjected to several centuries of the most intense critical scrutiny, and which continues today in the Jesus Seminar and other corrosive endeavors, Mormonism does not allow such activity.
But the real problem with Mormonism is that it's a non-historical religion claiming to be a historical one. For example, unlike the Bible, which contains records of events that happened not that far removed from when they were written down, the Book of Mormon (written, or "translated"--as the Mormon Church claims--only about 150 years ago) claims to describe events some of which occurred more than 2,500 years ago. Moreover, despite the efforts of New World Archelolgy to establish the historicity of the Book of Mormon's descriptions about the "Lamanites" and "Nephites," no evidence has not been forthcoming. In other words, the Book of Mormon claims to present history for which there is no corroborating evidence. Nor did Mormonism arise out of a pre-existing faith-community as Judaism and Christianity did. Bottom line, it just isn't an historical religion. I think the book does a pretty good job in getting this point across.
Despite its critical stance toward Mormon beliefs, the book is quite fair-minded in its portrayal of Mormon practice. Especially in the character of John Harley--loyal but troubled and not very devout--we get a sympathetic Mormon character. Harley, a convert, joined the Mormon Church basically because he needed to be saved--from his own destructive tendencies. He struggles with Mormon beliefs and rigidity, but is grateful for the stability it brings to his life. Pratt Toomey is also portrayed quite favorably, although in an entirely different manner, as is Lester Horner. Yet, we don't really get much of a sense of what Mormon life is really like. That is one of the things I think some of the other reviewers are complaining about.
Will Price, the villain, on the other hand, is an entirely unsympathetic character. Would it be possible for a devout, fanatical Mormon to behave as he does?--that is at the heart of this book. Is Mormonism capable of producing--even likely to produce--a Will Price? Would Mormon Church authorities authorize and condone such actions to preserve the pristine image of the LDS Church?
I don't know, but it's a fascinating question, and one that, given the secretiveness, authoritarianism, wealth, and power of the Mormon Church, can't easily be brushed aside. And that's probably what's really troubling to those who intensely dislike this book: it's all too plausible.
on December 9, 1999
Fine thriller set against the backdrop of the politics and machinations of the Morman Church. While not great writing, strong characters and mysteriousness of the unusual setting succeed in making this story above average. Wish Dr. Gregory had played a larger part, but at least this book sent me to the library to learn more about Mormonism.
Dr. Alan Gregory is a durable hero. He's been shot, stabbed, pushed off of cliffs, almost pushed off of cliffs, stalked, variously assaulted, and attacked by at least one wild animal. And yet he remains a mensch - tiresomely physically fit and over-addicted to healthy living, perhaps, but still a mensch. He admires his wife, cherishes his friends, and generally respects his patients. He loves his dogs, present and past. The supporting cast is equally attractive/compelling: Lauren Crowder's independent intelligence and relentless bravery, Sam Purdy's common sense and generosity, Adrienne Arvin's dementedly charming chutzpah, Diane and Raoul's wit and whimsy, all serve to anchor the series. And the presence of Grace in the later novels promises to develop into a great child character, possibly rivaling Lucy Karp in the early Gruber-authored Tanenbaums. The incidental characters are vivid and generally believable, almost without exception. Some authors are better at male characters than female, or the reverse, but White is excellent at people, all people. Most of the books are first-person narration by Gregory, but White can shift to third-person with aplomb.
Aside from the great characters, the plots of this series are outstanding. We learn about a private end-of-life corporation, cold-case volunteer groups, the Mormons, DB Cooper, the cult of personality, Grand Canyon adventures, and the fallout from the JonBenet case, all without stretching the seams of the community based in Boulder, CO. When the plots call for suspense, the books are literally terrifying, real white-knuckle reads. White is witty and insightful and the very best craftsperson of the English language I've read in years. His casually correct use of the subjective fills me with delight, as do his always-agreeing pronouns, and his elegant but unpretentious syntax. His prose is a pleasure to read.
The settings are wondrously vivid - views, trees, coffee houses, the streets and walks of Boulder and environs. White brings food to the table and vistas to the eye. You can track his characters on GoogleEarth and see just what he describes. I fell into this series at a gruesome time for me, professionally, and reading them all in a period of a couple of weeks has been an exercise in staying sane. Some are, of course, better than others - Kill Me, The Program, Higher Authority, Manner of Death - and there are some weak links (Cold Case, Private Practices), but I can't imagine reading 15 books by any other contemporary author sans break and still wishing for more.
Think you know about the Mormons? Give this a read. White perfects the process of seamlessly down-loading tons of new info to his readers. We get details from a variety of characters and from the narrator - never too much at once, always in a useful context. Lauren has more air-time here than Alan, and that's a treat for fans of the series. As always, White makes the landscape part of the plot and the mountains of Utah and Colorado loom large.
Mormonism takes some knocks, but deservedly so. What the reviewers who complain about this miss is the fact that everything here is true, verifiable from the LDS's _own_ websites. And - as Sam keeps pointing out - most religions look just as arbitrary, or would if they had Utah at their disposal. Read The Assassini by Thomas Gifford, and see the Roman Catholic version of this paradigm. In both cases, the willing participation of the flock is the most frightening element of the plot.
on February 12, 2001
I originally read this book about four years ago. While I had forgotten much of the mystery plot (not unusual for me), the insights into Mormonism really stuck with me. I reread the book this week (so I could chat with my husband, a first time reader) and came away even more impressed.
Having spent considerable time in Utah, I find the exploration of the LDS church in this book fascinating. I'm a bit of a religious skeptic and probably share some of White's biases. Still, this book strikes me as being carefully researched and jives with what I already knew of the life in Utah. It's a tremendous education about a part of America that is rarely explored in fiction (or elsewhere).
The other outstanding feature of this book is that it focuses on Lauren Crowder, Alan Gregory's girlfriend. As I mentioned in an earlier review, this really is a series that should be read in order (if possible). This is the third book in the series. I admire White's courage in backseating Gregory. Lauren is an interesting character and lends a different (more serious) tone to this book. Still, I can see that this is a bit of a curve ball for what some readers may expect. So -- you're forwarned now - enjoy it.
Oh, yes, the mystery. There is one and it's ok. Actually, it reminds me a bit of some of the earlier Grisham books. It's probably the weakest part of the book but good enough that you won't want to put the book down towards the end.
on December 30, 2015
A good little murder mystery set in Salt lake City. Sums up the Utah Mormon experience fairly well. Wish there were more books out there like this. I am not an active Mormon now. But I live in Utah. I was raised Mormon. Went on a two year Mormon mission. And even graduated from Mormon owned BYU. So when I say this novel gets it's Mormon history and Mormon culture right, I am speaking from a vast well of experience. Any reviewer who claims the book has it's facts wrong or disagrees it's premiss is just an angry butt-hurt Mormon who doesn't like anyone pointing out the truths and or faults of his/her church.
on November 11, 2014
I don't care about Mormons, fictional or otherwise. Most of the story is like verbal diarrhea about Mormons. Somewhere in there was plot. I skipped 2/3 of the book and listened only to the parts with dialog and not lecture about the Mormons. Have I said Mormons enough in this review? It's pretty much the same formula in the book. This is the third in the series I've read and the first two were good but this one is a pass for sure. Oh yeah, one more thing Mormons.
Higher Authority was mesmerizing - it's a good story with ultimately likable characters, but the research done by White that led to a realistic portrayal of the knee-jerk reaction of the Mormon Church to any perceived assault upon it, was scary. Read it as just a darn good read with a plot that will keep the pages turning. Read it for the interesting locales - especially if you have some knowledge of Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. What stays with you long after the read though, is what you learn about the Mormons and the power they hold in Utah. I agree with some of the reviews that Mormons, themselves, mean well, and most firmly believe they are Christians. I would be afraid of any religion, though, that would warn me not to dig too deeply into the church's doctrines - as not being "faith promoting". What do they have to hide? You'll find some of the answers to that in White's book. I like the openness of most Christian churches who encourage you to explore, question and openly discuss. Stephen, it took courage to take on this subject! You managed to give us a lot of information, and, at the same time weave a story that kept us going. You can't ask more from a book than that!
on April 9, 2002
I just read "Higher Authority" and couldn't put it down. Having lived and worked in Utah for 25 years, surrounded by Mormons, I could identify with all the author said. He obviously did his homework. This book might be hard for a lot of people who have never lived in Utah to believe, but I can vouch for all that he had to say about the workings and practices of the Mormon church. His research was meticulous. It is difficult for me to understand how thinking people can subject themselves to this sort of total mind domination where you must accept and believe, and never question anything about "the" church, its teachings, or its heirarchy. I have a number of good friends who are Mormons and feel sorry for them in that there is no way out except by being scorned and ostracised by their family and other Mormons. They truly believe the rest of us are going to hell and that their religion is the only true religion. Of course you are not a good Mormon if you try to explore the history of their true religion. They consider it as not being "faith promoting". It is common knowledge that the church has a highly secured vault in Utah which houses all defamatory records and writings and is never open to scholars or others who may share its contents. These records are purchased or obtained at all costs and immediately hidden. The paranoia for secrecy is well known. The Mormon religion is cleverly packaged to look very wholesome. On the surface it appeals to many looking for a religion and clean way of life for their children. If you are being sold this Madison Avenue facade and are considering becoming a Mormon I would highly recommend this book. It may open your eyes and your mind. This book is true but I am sure it is banned as reading material for the followers.
on March 27, 2012
I've read a number of Stephen White novels before, and have been favorably impressed. That's why I purchased this one without reading any reviews. I'm not a Mormon, and have no real opinion of their religion either way. What I can say is that this novel reminds me of a jilted lover talking about their ex. The plot seems secondary to White's need to tell the reader what I'm sure he considers dirty little Mormon secrets. The first time he mentions them, it's an interesting part of the novel. After repeating the same things over and over again, it's simply boring.
As for the plot and the execution of the novel, it's slow-moving, tedious, and he seems to want to rush it to and end after he's been rambling on too long.
I bought two more White books when I bought Higher Authority. I can only hope those are better.