Review: The Widow’s Son by Thomas Shawver

widows son by thomas shawverFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: mystery
Series: Rare Book Mystery #3
Length: 200 pages
Publisher: Random House Alibi
Date Released: July 7, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

In 1844, Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, died at the hands of an angry mob who stormed his jail cell in Carthage, Illinois. Shortly after, a radical faction of Smith’s followers swore to avenge Smith’s death by killing not only the four men deemed most responsible, but to teach their heirs to eliminate future generations of the prophet’s murderers as well.

One hundred and seventy years later, rare book dealer Michael Bevan is offered a valuable first-edition Book of Mormon that bears a strange inscription hinting at blood atonement. Within days of handing the book over for authentication, the volume disappears and two people lie dead. Michael soon learns that his friend Natalie Phelan, whose only crime is her genealogy, is the likely next victim. One of her would-be murderers has fallen in love with her, another is physically incapable of carrying out the act, but other avenging angels remain on the loose.

When Natalie is kidnapped, Michael must venture into a clandestine camp of vengeful men hell-bent on ritual sacrifice. To save her life, the book dealer needs all his worldly courage, brawn, and wits. But to defeat fanatics driven by an unholy vision, a little divine intervention couldn’t hurt.

My Review:

There are two threads to this story. One is the continuing saga of bookseller Michael Bevan and the sometimes cutthroat nature of the antique book business. In this installment of Michael’s odyssey to get his Midwestern bookstore into the exalted ranks of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, Michael makes several wrong turns. Even more than he has already made.

Michael has a tendency to take short cuts – it’s how he got disbarred in the first place. But the prestigious ABAA doesn’t just want pristine provenance for their books, it wants the appearance of squeaky cleanliness for its booksellers as well.

left turn at paradise by thomas shawverAnd Michael is not squeaky clean. While the deal that brought him his prize collection was legal (see Left Turn at Paradise, reviewed here, for details) it occurred mostly under the table and involved more than a bit of blackmail on the part of all the participants – even some of the dead ones.

It’s a story that Michael can’t tell, not even to the grand doyenne of the ABAA. So he tries bribing her instead.

It’s not exactly a bribe. He lets her “help” him sell a rare and very pricey book – one of the original copies of Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon, a copy which includes a handwritten dedication by one of Smith’s disciples.

Michael takes one of his famous shortcuts – he neglects to get a receipt for the $250,000 book. So when the old lady collector dies in a very suspicious fire, Michael is in all kinds of trouble with his client – who turns out to be in all kinds of trouble himself.

This is where the story gets interesting, and more than a bit crazy. His client, Emery Stagg, is the descendant of one of Smith’s disciples. When he was a teenager, he was brainwashed into the lunatic fringe of his religion. As a descendant of one of the disciples, he and his two cousins were tasked with sacrificing the last descendants of one of the men who colluded in Joseph Smith’s murder.

Instead poor Emery Stagg has a change of heart. Instead of killing Natalie Phelan, he falls in love with her. It should all be over, and the threat to Natalie and her daughter Claire should be finished.

But Emery’s family hasn’t given up. And now Emery himself is considered a traitor, and must be eliminated so that the sacrifice can proceed as planned.

Unless Michael can stop it.

dirty book murder by thomas shawverEscape Rating B-: As the three books in this series prove (starting with The Dirty Book Murder, reviewed here) the antique and collectible book trade is a lot more dangerous than an outsider might believe. Mike Bevan is always in trouble. Sometimes its financial trouble, and sometimes its just plain deadly dangerous.

His friends, like Natalie Phelan, often find themselves in hot water over their heads for something Mike did, or didn’t do. Once the trouble appears, Mike is the best friend a person could have, but he often had something to do with things going from bad to worse in the first place, even if it’s by accident.

In this case, Mike’s attempt to sell the book for Emery is the catalyst that brings all the trouble down on everyone’s head. It’s not Mike’s fault. It’s also not NOT Mike’s fault. The story of his life.

The mystery in The Widow’s Son is incredibly convoluted, and involves a lot of beliefs that have been disavowed by the LDS Church multiple times. While I’m a bit uncomfortable using the backdrop of the history of an existing religious group as twisted fodder for a mystery, it did make for an extremely twisty tale.

I was able to figure ot some of what was going on in advance, but the twisted reverence for an insane reading of history, along with the inclusion of some less-than-sane people, cloaked the entire picture in the fog of war until it was too late for Bevan or the reader to prevent getting sucked all the way in.

Mike Bevan is a likable character, a hero who is so flawed and screws up so often he is almost an anti-hero, but not quite. In the end, Mike does the right thing, and he always protects his friends. He’s one of those guys who has a heart of gold, but never quite grows all the way up.

We have a little bit of that in all of us, which makes him interesting to watch.


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