Blood Relations: A Good Mormon Girl Mystery
Amazon Digital Services, Inc., March 2013
Reviewed by Michael R. Collings
When my son first told me that his next novel would be a mystery, I was intrigued. Although he is pretty good at just about anything, he is at his best, his most imaginative when dealing with horror. Apparition, The Haunted, Darkbound, The Loon, Rising Darkness, Mr. Grey—the name “Michaelbrent Collings” on a novel conjures images of darkness, of blood and terror, of unnameable things just beyond the border of human experience.
Of course, one element in almost all horror/dark fantasy is mystery. Who will survive? Will anyone survive? Will the darkness be defeated or will it prevail? These and similar questions are as persistent and as suspenseful in horror as is the standard questions in mysteries: Who done it?
Then, however, he added a comment that made me stop and think: his heroine was going to be a “good Mormon girl.”
And suddenly, the stakes were much higher, simply because that phrase meant that Michaelbrent—known among his readers for creating stories too terrifying to be read at night—was going to tackle a PG-13 novel. No cursing. No gratuitous violence. No overt sex. No on-stage, moment-by-moment descriptions of serial killers slaughtering their victim or of monsters reveling in torture, blood, and death.
I purchased my copy of Blood Relations: A Good Mormon Girl Mystery the day it was released (yes, I know that I could have gotten a free copy, but, after all, the laborer is worth his hire, especially when he is family). And immediately realized that Michaelbrent was doing something unique, even for him.
His story is a mystery…and it is horror. His main character, Lane Cooley, is a staunch, believing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known perhaps as the Mormons…and she is also a Captain and Homicide Detective for the Los Angeles Police Department. She is serving in her congregation as the Relief Society President, as the voluntary head of the women’s auxiliary devoted to service and support…and she is on the trail of a serial murderer who targets young girls, stalks and murders them, then eviscerates them. At the same time, she is trying to help her younger sister, a seventeen-year-old Goth, adjust to the recent death of their parents…and protect her from predatory, much-pierced young men and—as she discovers to her horror—from the killer himself.
Michaelbrent demonstrates his virtuosity in this novel in ways that his other novels did not require. He balances two world views—the spiritual beliefs and concomitant actions of a faith-based life, as opposed to the hard-nosed, fact-based, disturbing, and frequently disgusting realities of a cop’s life—and brings them into harmony with each other in surprising and convincing ways.
Lane does not preach her religion to her co-workers; in fact, she goes out of her way not to use her position to coerce them into following her standards. Yet, simply by being who she is, she influences them in small but crucial ways. She does not smoke. She does not allow smoking in her home but has never tried to get it banned at the precinct. But when she is around, no one smokes. She does not use foul language—on this subject, she is quite vocal, not for religious reasons but because she believes (rightly, I think) that dependence on such language is a sign of intellectual paucity. When she is around, however, her colleagues temper their language.
When she functions as Captain Cooley of the LAPD, she might be appalled at what she sees and at what one human being is capable of doing to another, but those harsh truths do not shake her faith. She is what she is; she knows what she knows; and she uses her own strengths and those she garners from her faith in her struggles to make the world better, safer.
Blood Relations, like its main character, does not preach. In this way it resembles Orson Scott Card’s remarkable semi-autobiographical novel, Lost Boys, which has Mormon characters and incorporates many elements of Mormon life but nevertheless remains true to its genre—ghost story. Lane Cooley is a Mormon. To a large extent that datum explains her choices, her responses, her anxieties and her hopes, and her deep sense of commitment to others. But she is also a fully rounded character, living in the ‘real’ world and adjusting to it as circumstances demand.
The full title of the novel—Blood Relations: A Good Mormon Girl Mystery—is telling in several ways. There will be blood, just not too much of it. The main character overtly represents a specific mode of living, a specific mode of knowing too often disparages in contemporary fiction. The novel—while containing elements of darkness, fear, and terror—is essentially a mystery. And it is the first in a proposed series: Good Mormon Girl Mysteries.
As a father, I am proud of Michaelbrent for tackling this kind of fiction.
As a reader, a critic, and a reviewer, I look forward to further installments.