Book Review


(A mystery thriller novel)

By Rick Grunder

BookBaby, Pennsauken, New Jersey, 2020

The author of 116, Rick Grunder, is a former Brigham Young University librarian who for over 40 years has operated his own book business in Fayette, New York, specializing in old books, rare documents and Mormonabilia. In this, his first novel, he brings together his experience in rare documents and his knowledge of Mormon culture and Mormon history to provide us with a thrilling read with crime, intrigue, religious esoterica and a large cast of interesting characters.

116 refers, as any Latter-day Saint might guess, to the first 116 pages of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon which Martin Harris (who had served as a scribe for Joseph Smith's dictation from the gold plates) borrowed and then somehow lost. Harris wanted to show them to his wife, to convince her that he was not wasting his time in working with the new prophet. According to Smith, the pages were a translation of the Book of Lehi, written by the patriarch who had led his family out of Israel and to the New World just as Jerusalem was about to be conquered.

The pages were never found, never recovered, and caused great concern for the fledgling prophet: he was warned by God not to attempt to retranslate the material, but instead to translate other material from the plates that covered the same period.

Grunder's 116 tells of an effort by a wealthy Mormon Utah businessman whose hobby is rare Mormon memorabilia to follow up on a tantalizing tip that the manuscript has survived. He hires a New York rare manuscript dealer (such as Grunder) to follow up and to find the manuscript, not only for its monetary value, but primarily for its religious value, as a valid part of the Book of Mormon, the precious founding scripture of Mormonism.

Reading 116 is a gripping experience. Grunder is a talented novelist. One would not suspect that this is his first novel, since he uses all the advanced techniques of an experienced mystery writer. The 131 chapters are short, and always end with a tantalizing event that leaves the reader wondering "what next?" and unable to put the book down. Surprises abound, the plot is complicated but easy to follow. Each one of the many characters comes to life, and one feels that they are real live people. The narrative sparkles with unusual wit and turns of phrase that make the reader smile.

A non-Mormon reader can enjoy this thriller, even knowing little about Mormonism or Mormon history, since Grunder's protagonist, the rare book dealer, is also not a Mormon, and in the course of his search he gradually becomes familiar with many aspects of Mormonism and Mormon culture, as will the non-Morrmon reader. And even Mormons may learn some things of which they were unaware, since Grunder also is the author of the monumental Mormon bibliographical source Mormon ParallelsI, over 2000 pages of mostly unknown historical items that shed light on eaarly 19th century contemporary influences on Mormonism. Some of them come up in the narrative of 116, such as the origin of the familiar vision of Lehi in the Book of Mormon where he tells of seeing a "great and spacious building" with an "iron rod" to protect people from falling into a dirty river.

Also, the reader is introduced to the fascinating small world of the dealers in old books and documents. It is certainly accurate, since Grunder has been active in that field for 40 years. Most readers will be quite unfamiliar with it until this.

The hard cover and the dust jacket are beautifully well done, unusual, since they are also the product of Grunder's art.

Reviewing a mystery novel is limiting, since the reviewer should not include anything that would be a "spoiler" and would ruin the suspense which is the great attraction of mystery novels. I have over the years read my share of mysteries, and I have found that one of the faults of many mystery authors is that their convoluted plots sometimes don't make sense, and they don't really clear up all the questions that the reader has at the end. 116 generally avoids those faults. But there were a few questions left unanswered after all, of the kind: "What happened to X?"; "Why didn't Z tell Y about W?" "Why would V do that - it doesn't make sense?" But those are minor quibbles, and I suspect that asking questions like that, just as in religion, are better left unasked. If one can do that, then the reader, either Mormon or non-Mormon, will enjoy this novel as an outstanding example of the genre.

Reviewed by Richard Packham for the Association For Mormon Letters

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©  2020 Richard Packham    Permission granted to reproduce for non-commercial purposes, provided text is not changed and this copyright notice is included


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