D.A. Bartley, a 2018-2019 ITW Debut Author, has published her first novel today. Blessed be the Wicked is a police procedural. The protagonist is Detective Abish Taylor, who grew up Mormo in Utah, leaves, and returns only after she has lost her beloved husband. But like most of us, she can't go home again: she is no longer a practicing Mormon, but she is as familiar with these people, their religion, and this place as only someone who has grown up with them can be.
She needs all of her special knowledge, because her first real case starts when a man in temple clothes is found with his throat slit in the closet of an empty house. The manner of death has all the hallmarks of a sacred ritual dating back to the days of Brigham Young. The house is magnificent, the neighborhood picturesque, the people holy (or maybe, holier-than-though) but like any community they hide their secrets, their infidelities, and their corruption. Detective Taylor is determined to find justice for the dead man, but she's up against a powerful, very hierarchical, and very patriarchal church structure, a police chief pressuirng her to close the case whether it's really solved or not, and a sinister tradition from the Mormon's not-so-distant past: the ultimate sacrifice for unforgivable sins.
If you are a sacred-garment wearing Mormon this book is not for you. But if you are a reader fascinated to know more about a very reclusive yet powerful group, then this book can teach you a few things while at the same time offering great adventures and thrills.
WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING
"Blessed Be the Wicked is razor sharp and crackles with a relentless tension. D.A. Bartley takes readers on a dark passage into the depths of a little known society that is as fascinating as it is secretive." —New York Times bestselling author Linda Castillo
“Blessed be the Wicked is an insightful and compelling read which uncovers the dark heart of a seemingly respectable community. I loved it.” —Sarah Ward, author of In Bitter Chill
“A fascinating and memorable story, full of twists and turns.” —Emily Littlejohn, author of Inherit the Bones
WHERE TO FIND IT
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
D. A. Bartley is a member of Daughters of Utah Pioneers. She traces her family history back to the earliest days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She spent much of her childhood in Utah, but her parents were incurable travelers. She was born in Scotland and lived in Germany, France and Russia. After studying international relations, politics and law, D. A. worked both as an attorney and an academic in Manhattan. In the end, though, she could not escape her life-long love of mysteries. She lives in New York City with her husband, daughter and son.
Contact D.A. Bartley
The dead man in the closet was dressed almost entirely in white: shirt, trousers, shoes and socks, even the sash draped over one shoulder and the stiff, puffy cap on his head. The only exception was a dark-green apron embroidered with fig leaves around his waist. He was sitting upright in a heavy chair; his feet and knees had been bound with a thick white satin ribbon. An identical ribbon was wrapped tightly around the trunk of his body, fixing it in place. Both tied into meticulous bows.
The clothes were sacred, not meant to be worn outside the walls of the temple. This fact was making the Mormon police officers on the scene uncomfortable. Detective Abish Taylor, though, wasn’t at all uncomfortable. The clothes intrigued her, almost as much as the apparent manner of death: there was a thick straight gash running from ear to ear under the dead man’s chin. Blood had drained from that single wound onto his shirt and the ceremonial apron, finally pooling in a dark puddle on the floor.
Abbie knew this crime scene was tough on everyone. The younger officers were skittish because of how the body was dressed. They’d all been taught those all-white ensembles were an outward expression of secret covenants made with the Lord. Seeing this bloody body—dressed for the temple—in the basement of a McMansion was jarring. Abbie suspected this may have been the first time some of the young officers had ever thought about what it looked like to be dressed in those white clothes with a green apron wrapped around their waist. When you did it at the temple, you sort of were on autopilot. Everyone around you was dressed the same, you spoke in the same hushed tones, and you certainly didn’t question anything you did. Abbie was sure most of the officers were struggling to suppress questions as they processed the scene. Hell, that’s what they’d been taught to do since Sunday school—suppress questions— but she saw in the strained expressions on a few officers’ faces that they were dealing with an internal barrage of doubts about a practice they had, until now, done without think- ing. Of course, none of them would admit that, certainly not to her.
The older officers, though, Abbie felt for. These were men who had been going to the temple for decades, long enough that they had drawn their own thumbs across their neck dozens, maybe hundreds, of times in the macabre reenactments that had been removed from the temple ceremony a few decades change it. Blood atonement was part of the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It always had been and always would be.
The LDS Church had disavowed it in the late 1970s and removed the penalty oaths from the temple ceremony in 1990, but anyone old enough to have been to the temple before then wouldn’t be able to forget it. That’s why the younger officers were merely uneasy while the older officers felt a sense of dread. Early Mormon leaders had taught that certain sins were so egregious that not even the blood of Christ was sufficient to wash away the stain of sin. Such sins required the sinner’s throat to be slit from ear to ear and his blood to spill to the earth. Abbie had never been able to understand how this ritual was Christlike. No Sunday school teacher had ever been able to explain to her how the same divine source who taught complete forgiveness in the story of the prodigal son would centuries later make exceptions to his grace. The Heavenly Father Abbie had come to know as a child had high expectations of his children.
“I’ve got the knife.” Officer Jim Clarke held up a standard bowie knife. It had been on the floor beneath the dead man’s right hand. This was Clarke’s first murder case, and the first time he and Abbie were working together. What Abbie knew about him was fairly innocuous: he was a local, a former high school basketball player, and a returned missionary. He was hardworking, meticulous, and, unlike Abbie, technologically savvy. Abbie wasn’t sure why Chief Russell Henderson had chosen Clarke to be her number two, but she guessed it was because Clarke was the only guy at the Pleasant View City Police Department who didn’t seem to have any trouble dealing with a woman as his superior officer. The rest of the small police force behaved exactly as she had expected them to when she’d taken the job a few months ago: white male with a strong undercurrent of chauvinism.
“Have you gone through those clothes yet?” Abbie asked.
“Nope,” Clarke answered. Abbie kneeled on the floor and looked through the neatly folded clothing behind the body. On the top of the stack was a cream Brioni shirt, a pair of camel Ralph Lauren Black Label trousers, a navy Armani sport jacket (size 48), and a pair of dark-blue socks with their tops carefully folded inside out. There was also a pair of barely worn, dark- brown Gucci loafers.
“No wallet or ID?” Abbie looked inside the back of the white shirt collar. Some Mormons embroidered their names in white thread on their temple clothes, but here there weren’t any initials or insignia. The man wasn’t wearing any jewelry, but the thick stripe of white skin on his left-hand ring finger indicated he’d probably worn a wedding band. In this part of the world, it would have been strange for a man of his age not to be married.
Clarke said, “No ID, but he looks—”
“There’s no ID on the body,” Chief Henderson cut in before Clarke could finish what he was saying. The interruption piqued Abbie’s interest, but everyone in the basement was on edge. Being polite was hardly a priority. This death was not the sort of thing anyone in Pleasant View had ever encountered. Abbie had probably seen more dead bodies in New York in a single year than everyone else here had in their entire lives.
So far, Abbie’s view of the chief was mildly favorable. He seemed to be honest. Undoubtedly, he would have preferred to have a man in her job, a man who was an active member of the Church, but he’d been decent to her since she’d started. Henderson lived by the rules. Those rules were usually pretty clear. He didn’t miss a day of work. He went to church every Sunday. But Abbie had a queasy feeling in her stomach that something about this case was going to challenge her boss. The religious overtones of this death were going to test which rules mattered more to him: church or state.
“Okay, then, it’s Mr. Doe.” Abbie shrugged. She took one last glance at the body sitting eerily upright in the large walk-in closet. The entire Pleasant View police force— four full-time officers, three part-time, and Chief Henderson— were all in the basement of this enormous house. The house was in one of the many wealthy new neighborhoods that crawled up the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains from Ogden to Provo. Where the mountains had just been mountains thirty years ago, now there were houses as far as the eye could see. The ones in this neighborhood, Ben Lomond Circle, ranged in size from huge to gigantic. This particular house was definitely in the latter category. Abbie wondered what the officers thought of the obvious display of wealth. This might have been the first time most of the guys had ever been inside a place this big.
“Detective Taylor,” Clarke said, “the couple who found the body are upstairs in the kitchen. Do you want to speak to them?” Jim Clarke had never called Abbie by her first name. She wondered if he ever would. She reciprocated and called him by his last name, too.
“Yeah.” Abbie had seen the husband and wife on her way to the basement. They had moved into the house that morning. The wife had been checking out the basement with her kids when she discovered the body. Abbie didn’t expect to get any helpful information from them. She doubted they had anything to do with the dead man, but the possibility couldn’t be ruled out.
Clarke followed Abbie up the plushly carpeted stairs leading to the main floor. “I heard they only paid six hundred thousand for it,” Clarke whispered. That was definitely a post-realestate-bubble price, Abbie thought. A few years earlier, this house would certainly have gone for well over a million.
Abbie walked into the kitchen. It looked like something out of a Real Housewives show. Everything was designed to impress. “Understatement” was not a word in the builder’s vocabulary. Like the cameras people invited to follow them around in return for a check and notoriety, the purpose of this house was to hit you over the head with an obvious display of wealth that would appeal to those who couldn’t distinguish between tasteful and expensive. Everything was over-the-top: there were the double-thick granite counter tops in the kitchen, twelve-foot ceilings, two sweeping staircases with custom ironwork in the marble entry hall, crown molding, and gleaming brass (yes, brass) fixtures.
The husband and wife sat in their brand-new, shiny kitchen. They both looked shaken and pale. Boxes were stacked everywhere, full of top-of-the line kitchen appliances, no doubt. On the counter between two boxes sat an orchid, still in its stiff plastic wrap with ribbons and a card attached that read “Welcome to Your New Home!” Abbie looked at the card and thought of the body in the basement. What a housewarming gift.
BOUCHERCON BLOG TOUR
This blog is part of a blog tour about writers attending Bouchercon 2018 in St. Petersburg, FL. If you are there, you can meet D.A. Bartley at the "Higher Powers: Religions in Crime Fiction," Panel at 8 am on Sunday.
FEARLESS BLOGGER TOUR
This blog is part of a tour organized by the International Thriller Writer's Association FEARLESS BLOGGER tour. The Fearless Bloggers were created by Alison McMahan to help new thriller writers who were members of ITW promote their work. Blogs are written about new thrillers by thriller writers. All work is done on a volunteer basis. Elena Hartwell is one of our bloggers. Other blogs in this tour include: