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John Bennion

Ezekiel’s Third Wife: A Novel

Roundfire Books, 2019

It’s past midnight in the desert of Utah in the 1890’s. Rachel, the third wife of a Mormon patriarch, sneaks out to make love to her secret, second husband. Instead of him, she finds her sister wife murdered in an irrigation ditch and her new husband’s boot prints around the body. Her stepfather gathers a posse to track the apparent killer. Rachel is left behind in town, trying to uncover the real killer before her stepfather catches up to her husband and one shoots the other. This contemporary western mystery explores tensions inside communities and gives us a new refreshing strong female heroine. As independent-minded amateur detective Rachel uses evidence and logic to uncover the murderer, she is also exploring the texture of the very fabric that holds the settlers together. Not just water, but all resources are precious in the arid land they farm; a scarcity which often results in anger and violence. Can she untangle the tight web woven by diverse peoples welded into powerful communities in the harsh landscapes of western Utah?

Review by Brian Roberts at Faculty Book Lunch

John Bennion’s new novel, Ezekiel’s Third Wife is a 19th-century murder mystery set in the desolate, bone-dry west desert that Dr. Bennion dearly loves. (Think Midsommer Murders meets Skull Valley . . . .) His novel opens with his protagonist, Ezekiel’s third wife, Rachel, ruminating on her current situation and how dramatically her life has changed since her childhood in Nevada:

“When I was ten, if some visionary crone had pronounced my future: ‘In another year, when you are eleven, you will travel east and become a Mormon.’ Bollocks! I would have said (because I learned to swear when I learned to talk). ‘At eighteen years of age you will enter plural marriage with one man and his two previous wives, and one year after that, you will secretly take a second husband, a Gentile.’ Perishing, bloody bollocks!
“But I had done all these things . . .”

Rachel’s life, and the novel’s plot, become even more complicated when Rachel, on her way to a secret rendezvous with her Gentile lover/husband, discovers the body of her pious, straight-backed sister-wife Sophia, dead in an irrigation ditch. Rachel’s shock magnifies when she recognizes her Gentile husband’s boot prints among many others on the path near the soaking corpse.

And so Rachel becomes a sleuth deciphering boot prints: who made them, where they came from and where they lead, and more importantly, what they mean.

Dr. Bennion’s boot prints are all over the place, too, as he describes the land and its quirky characters that he knows so well in a story that explores smart women, mainstream and bent Mormon culture, love and loyalty, and the conscience of a community.