I have always been somewhat interested in the Mormon Church, particularly after being introduced by a former professor (shout out to Nancy Hewitt) to the religious upheavals that swept through the "burned over district," which helped spawn much enthusiasm and not a few splinter churches. It was further fueled by a history of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. I never bought the Moroni & the golden tablet story, and to some extent think that Joseph Smith was little more than a successful con man (not unlike so many other charismatic preachers with devoted followings) who liked the ladies. But I respect the notion that churches are about people finding community, even if others do not agree with the details of faith or their foundings; the few Mormons I have known always impressed me with their faith and actions (although they tended to be a bit too conservative for me, and in some cases distant). Although these friends frowned upon many behaviors, I never once felt pushed to join their faith, possibly beyond a polite inquiry, and never felt pressured to not have that drink, or whatever. And as a (not-very-good) Catholic, I understand religious rigidity in accepting change and abhor my own leaders’s refusals to accept gays, or to provide better opportunities for women in the church (I believe women should be priests---I was influenced greatly in this belief by Sister Adrienne). And, though possibly not for religious reasons, I have never accepted polygamy as anything other than men finding an excuse to cheat, but being able to do it "legally." (I do understand that some women defend the practice as reducing the demands upon any one individual, but I just don't buy it.)
So reading A Gathering of Saints, by Robert Lindsey, opened a giant window into many of the beliefs and fears (paranoia) of members of the Latter-Day Saints, both those who wish to protect the church (from outside criticism as well as internal dissent) and honest searchers for truth and faith. This interesting foray into a secretive world, as well as the dealings of sketchy (and greedy) historical-document dealers---sparked by the bombing murder of two Salt Lake City residents, as well as another bombing that opened the doors to a determined police investigation---was worthy of a thrilling mystery novel. The killer, Mark Hoffman, was outwardly a devout Mormon channeling possibly damaging documents (at a nice profit) to church leaders eager to cover up potentially embarrassing information, who turns out to be a master forger and cold-blooded murderer who apparently had little faith at all, other than getting rich. So many people were duped, largely by the skillful maneuvering of Hoffman, or the failure to do proper legwork, or simple gullibility. I found some of the information on forgery quite good. The story lagged a bit, but it was compelling enough that I wanted to know "why" Hoffman killed and just how extensive his forgeries went, and indeed he fooled a lot more people than just the Mormons, all the way up to the specialists at the Library of Congress. I was especially interested in attempts by the Mormon hierarchy to silence academic inquiry (particulalry by critics), which I hate no matter who is putting up the roadblocks, be it church or government. There will be some who see "Mormon bashing," but I think Lindsey tried to take the middle road, letting others critique and he report. The second half of the book is a great detective story of a group of determined investigators (of mixed backgrounds and beliefs) who doggedly tracked down the truth, all over the country, and forced Hoffman to come clean about his crimes.