In 1857, a wagon train in Utah was assaulted by a group of militant Mormons calling themselves the Avenging Angels. One hundred and forty people were murdered, including unarmed men, women, and children. The Mountain Meadows Massacre remains controversial to this day—but the truth may be written on the skulls of the victims.
When renowned forensic artist Gwen Marcey is recruited to reconstruct the faces of recently unearthed victims at Mountain Meadows, she isn’t expecting more than an interesting gig . . . and a break from her own hectic life.
But when Gwen stumbles on the ritualized murder of a young college student, her work on the massacre takes on a terrifying new aspect, and research quickly becomes a race against modern-day fundamentalist terror.
As evidence of a cover-up mounts—a cover-up spanning the entire history of the Mormon church—Gwen finds herself in the crosshairs of a secret society bent on fulfilling prophecy and revenging old wrongs.
Can a forensic artist reconstruct two centuries of suppressed history . . . before it repeats itself?
What if Joseph Smith was not murdered in Carthage, IL? What if he survived the attack on his prison and that survival covered up? These are the questions asked in the debut novel by forensic artist, Carrie Stuart Parks. It’s a controversial scenario and, coupled with the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre, could have made A Cry from the Dust a provocative novel. Sadly, this is a debut that never quite reaches its full potential.
The story starts with a prologue set in 1857 during the massacre. It’s a strong opening, which allows the reader to feel the desperation and horror of the victims. Parks uses some of the names from the list of known victims to add to the authenticity. The storyline then shifts to the present day and into the first person perspective of Gwen Marcey, forensic artist and breast cancer survivor, who is involved with an upcoming exhibit at the site of the massacre. One of her facial reconstructions resembles someone who shouldn’t have been alive in 1857, but it isn’t until after the murders begin that Gwen recognizes the face. From then on, the story becomes less about the massacre and more about splinter groups of the LDS church and the possibility that Smith didn’t die in Carthage.
I wanted to love this book. I’ve read some excellent works by debut authors and I hoped this would be another of those. There were just a couple of things that disappointed me. The first is the continual change of perspective throughout the novel. The majority is written in the first person point of view, but there are continual switches to a third person narrative from the perspectives of Gwen’s daughter and colleague which I found confusing. I accept the formatting of the e-book didn’t help but I wish Parks would’ve stuck with one style or the other. Secondly, the action was non-stop, but I felt there was a little too much of it. Gwen goes from one dramatic scenario to another without pausing for breath. There was also the matter of characterization: Parks has written some of her personal life into Gwen’s character, such as her job, her experiences with cancer and her love of Great Pyrenees dogs. Gwen’s relationship with her teenage daughter also strongly reminded me of the relationship between Patricia Cornell’s Kay Scarpetta and her niece Lucy.
Everything seems to come together at the end, but there are a few plot lines that do appear to be left hanging. I still had one major question about the Smith element, but Parks doesn’t come close to giving an answer. Perhaps that would’ve been a little too controversial for a new author. Her next book, at this time called Lone Wolf, has been handed to the publisher and will probably be released next year. I may or may not read it, depending on what else is around at the time.
Thank you to Thomas Nelson for my complimentary electronic copy of A Cry from the Dust, which I downloaded from NetGalley. No review was required.
Have you read A Cry from the Dust? Do you plan to read it? Let me know your thoughts.
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: 12 August 2014
Page Count: 384