Book review: 'Motive for Murder' an uneven, slightly Mormon mystery

Published: Saturday, July 6 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

"MOTIVE FOR MURDER: An Erica Coleman Mystery," by Marlene Bateman, Covenant Communications, $16.99, 276 pages (f)

The heroine of "Motive for Murder" is a combination of private eye characters with touches of Mormonism.

There's some of the Monk television detective in that Erica Coleman can't help straightening things out and takes antiseptic wipes and plastic gloves with her wherever she goes. She even says, "You'll thank me for it later."

Like the Kinsey Milhone character in Sue Grafton books, she takes a lot of personal chances trying to resolve mysteries, though she stops short of breaking and entering or picking locks.

And like the Josi Kilpack books featuring Sadie Hoffmiller, recipes are included (in the back of the book) as part of the offering.

Unlike the similar stories, there's a lot of Mormonism in this book, references to attending a baptism, reading scriptures, preparing Sunday dinners, blessings on the food, references which tend to collide with the story more than enhance it.

It's fine to have a character who is clearly an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but there are less clunky ways to point it out and there's no explanation or foundation laid about why the LDS religion matters, at least not in the first half of the book.

When Coleman misses drinking a cup of poisoned coffee because she doesn't drink coffee, it's a little hit-in-the-head obvious.

When she worries that her friend who may be charged with a murder is upset because her fiancé isn't interested in the LDS Church, it seems kind of silly.

The LDS references tend to interfere with the telling of the story rather than add, which is a shame because there's a way to tell this kind of tale without the bludgeoning.

There's also a remarkably patient husband waiting at home with the kids while Coleman stays indefinitely with her divorced, unhappy friend trying to come up with answers about murder and attempted murder and why a bishop would give bad advice.

The husband doesn't seem bothered by her flitting around investigating while he cooks, cleans and makes lunches in another state.

It's clean without any vulgar language or described violence.

There's also a lot of clutter in this story, which is a shame because there are passages that are quite readable.

It just bogs down in Mormon and trivial detail, way too many potential suspects and clumsy writing.

In addition, the story swings from inconsequential passages about buying hamsters to recollections of serious child and spouse abuse without much inbetween.

The result is an uneven, problematical mix.

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@deseretnews.com

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