“I have administered the mercy of the atonement of blood. The price has been paid.” (p. 76)
“Cumorah must be opened, purified by fire.” (p. 336)
Such are the words of a madman in Latayne C. Scott’s new novel Latter-day Cipher. The premise of the book: What if someone chose to live the original teachings of Mormonism today?
I first heard about this story when Latayne wrote a guest post on a blog I frequent, Mormon Coffee, which is kept up by Mormonism Research Ministry. As someone who has enjoyed reading and learning more over the years about Mormonism and comparing it to true biblical Christianity, this was a book that immediately grabbed my interest. It contained several elements that I enjoy very much: Mormonism vs. Christianity, murder mystery, and suspense. I was not disappointed.
In the book we follow newspaper reporter Selonnah Zee from her home in Tennessee to a vacation in Salt Lake City, where she visits her cousin, Roger, his wife, Eliza, and their daughter, Maria. Roger had converted to Mormonism after moving to Utah and had just been hired as a spokesman for the Church. Just before leaving for her trip, however, Selonnah’s boss calls with some interesting news: the Mormons are building a temple nearby, and it would be nice if Selonnah could find as much information as possible about Mormon temples during her trip for a story when she returns.
Around the time Selonnah goes to Utah, a series of unusual crimes begins taking place. First a young woman who has turned her back on Mormonism is found brutally murdered in Provo Canyon. Next the body of a Salt Lake City prostitute is discovered naked downtown, and the state in which she is found is disturbingly poetic in light of the clues left behind. As additional crimes continue, the bizarre nature of all of them seems to raise several questions that can only be answered in Utah: What is the meaning behind these unusual breaches of the law? What is the point behind the notes that are being left at the site of each crime in a strange alphabet? Most importantly, do Mormon history and doctrine hold the answers?
In the midst of everything, Roger’s wife Eliza is starting to question the Church in which she grew up. Many of the doctrines in which Eliza has believed her whole life now seem to be crumbling around her. Are the American Indians really descendants of Ancient Israel? Is the Book of Abraham an accurate translation of the Egyptian papyri bought by Joseph Smith? Is God really just an exalted man with a body like ours?
Selonnah finds herself discovering the same information as Eliza through a local Christian and fellow news reporter, Anne, and the help of two Salt Lake City police officers, Lt. Luke Taylor and Police Chief Helaman Peterson. As Selonnah goes beyond the façade created by the LDS Church’s public relations department, she is increasingly disturbed by what she finds. Only a search into the depths of a religion in which 13 million people have placed their faith will reveal the answers.
I feel that Latayne presented LDS doctrine and history especially well in Latter-day Cipher, all while putting it into an exciting story for those who prefer a novel over non-fiction. There are many quotes throughout the book that define the message of the story, but I think one that sums it all up for me is made by Eliza when explaining her reservations about Mormonism to Roger:
I want the great I AM who spoke to Moses out of the burning bush. Not the Getting There Ahead of You on the Road. Maybe I want to believe in a swashbuckling God…. I want a Rescuer who’s always been a Rescuer. A God who’s always been a God. I don’t want to depend on a fabrication of a johnny-come-lately wannabe. I don’t want the human in a fantasy witness protection program who has an invented history—a representation, if you will—that happens to intersect at a few places across the Bible with that fierce-eyebrowed, no-nonsense, Love Incarnate God. The One who’s always been around. Like eternally around. (p. 272)
In this quote, Eliza perfectly describes the God that I want to know as well. Do I want to know a god who’s simply a super-human? Not at all!
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23 And changed the glory of uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
-Romans 1:22-23, KJV
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
Like Eliza, this is the God I’ll take…not one who’s just on the road of progression ahead of me, but the One who’s always been the Destination, who teaches and guides me because He already knows all and loves me. In the wonderful words of Joshua 24:15, “but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”