Amber Gilchrist is an independent writer of fiction that is unapologetically LDS and aimed at a general audience. When I set into reading her newest novel, The Librarian Shoots a Gun, it was with the intent of studying how she grounds her general readers in LDS culture–what she feels a need to explain, and how she does it without interrupting the flow of her story.
Because of recent discussions like this one, I think the topic is a relevant one as we (LDS artists) continue to work on expanding the market for fiction with LDS theme and/or content, beyond just an LDS audience. Independent authors like Gilchrist and our very own Moriah Jovan are a great place to look, because they are actually doing this– successfully marketing their fiction, which is LDS in content, to a general audience.
The Librarian Shoots a Gun is very much fun, chick-fluff, cozy mystery goodness. I love me a good cozy mystery now and then, especially when I’m sick, which I was this weekend, so it really worked out, reading this. And, I really loved it.
The story is fairly simple and formulaic in plot, but with hilarious twists and delightful character development:
Our main character is Audrey: a tiny, feisty, still-not-married, thirty-something LDS librarian. (And already, our theme is interesting. Our character is disenfranchised because of a distinctly LDS phenomenon: the “menace to society” factor. This theme is developed well throughout the story.) Audrey is headed off to a friend’s wedding when the best man goes missing, and there is a police search involved, because a murder took place, and missing best man is the main suspect.
When said best man surprises Audrey by hiding in her closet that night, she breaks his nose and sends him off bleeding, but not before he successfully convinces her of his innocence. Audrey gets a feeling he is in real trouble, so like any avenging angel returned-missionary librarian-romantic type, she decides to take matters into her own hands, track him down, and find out who the real murderers were, using her bookish skills and martial-arts skills.
Unfortunately, the frighteningly handsome, frustratingly taciturn special agent assigned to the case takes an interest in her, following her around, trying to catch her making contact with the missing best-man.
In the beginning, the story did feel a bit choppy. There was a bit of aside-and-explanation as Gilchrist acquainted the reader with such LDS terms as “ward,” “bishop,” the concept of temple marriage, etc. But as the story wound on, these asides seemed less intrusive. I could see how a general reader wouldn’t mind them, because they do inform the story. In fact, a crucial turning point in the plot had everything to do with LDS culture and beliefs. So in the end, I wound up feeling like these explanations were not extraneous, but rather, integral to the story as a whole. However, I wish they’d been incorporated a bit more seamlessly… instead of chocolate chips of information in a delicious brown-sugar cookie, I’d like more of a chocolate swirl. But I think all of us who are working hard to figure out what it means to market LDS culture to a general audience are always exploring how to do this.
In all, the story was delightful, engaging, and everything I’d want a cozy mystery to be. It’s also intelligently written. The language is high-brow, the jokes sly and smooth–quick asides that left me chuckling all the way through. I loved the blend of sarcasm and sweetness… joking about LDS culture, but loving it, too. I think this makes the LDS-ness of the story even more palatable to a reader–the sense that we know how absurd some things may sound to people not of LDS culture, and we can laugh at ourselves at the same time as we can hold close beliefs that are special and sacred to us. There are a lot of independent LDS writers who are doing this especially well right now, and I believe that looking to the independent LDS market is the right frontier if we’re trying to find examples to follow of fiction that is unapologetically LDS, and we’re planning on sending it out to a general audience.
The Librarian Shoots a Gun nursed me through a sinus infection. I ate about a half of a chocolate cake while I read it, and I’m not sure which was more comforting, the book or the confection.