Unweaving the tangled web: Michael Oborn’s “The Complete Mystery of Matthew Alcott”

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Do you ever wonder what’s in the secret vaults of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Have you ever imagined what you’d do if you had access?

Matthew Alcott was a humble archivist working for the church when some previously undisclosed documents caught his eye, including Joseph Smith’s long-lost last revelation. What he found gave him new insights on Joseph Smith as a person; so much so that Matthew wrote a new (fictionalized) biography of Joseph Smith, portraying him as a man — an exceptional man, perhaps, but motivated by ordinary human drives — not as an almost-divine prophet. And the church couldn’t have that.

The Complete Mystery of Matthew Alcott is a wild thrill ride exploring what can happen when one person tries to stand up to a a giant religious corporation full of powerful people who are used to getting their way — and to believing that anything they do for the good of the church is righteous by definition. It’s a bit like Lawrence Pratt’s Dark Deception in terms of illustrating the dangers of a community where everyone owes unquestioning allegiance to a hierarchy with ultimate power in the hands of a few top leaders, except that (unlike Pratt) Oborn didn’t mince words about calling his deadly organization the CoJCoL-dS.

I think the biggest problem with explicitly using the CoJCoL-dS as the villain in this story is that a lot of readers might be thinking: That non-hagiographic biography of Joseph Smith? The one that took a huge toll on Joseph Smith’s popular image by portraying him an exceptional man, perhaps, but motivated by ordinary human drives…? Fawn Brodie wrote that book in 1945. And, while Mormons perhaps put in some impressive efforts to slander her, they didn’t actually try to bribe or frighten her out of publishing… That is a minor objection, though, for an entertaining thriller that doesn’t pretend to be anything but fiction.

Some additional aspects I enjoyed were the portrait of the Alcoholics Anonymous community (including the sober version of Hell’s Angels) and of Matthew’s relationship with Cate. Oborn captured a profound affectionate bond as felt by a character who is far from romantic.

The Complete Mystery of Matthew Alcott is a fun book to pick up for yourself or for exmo friends this holiday season. Don’t buy it for your TBM relatives, though — trust me on this one. 😉

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