Created by Gary Stewart
“Shit. What a way to make a living. But you can’t beat an uptight religious society for providing employment for parasites like me. These Mormons take their their adultery seriously.”
— Gabe, on being a Salt lake City private eye.
It must have seemed like a good idea at the time: the good ol’ boy cowpoke as Mormon private eye. Like, why not?
A lapsed Mormon, actually, although GABE UTLEY says he’s still “on the books”. He was born in Salinas, California, but he grew up in a small apartment over his uncle’s store in Salt Lake City with his mother, with occasional visits from his wandering, ne’er do well father. Between visits, he read The Hardy Boys books and saw “too many Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy westerns.”
But at twelve, his mother died in a car crash, and his father wandered off for good. Gabe was passed around from relative to relative over the next few years, but by the age of twenty, he’d had enough. He moved to NYC with a pal, had a few wild years, but eventually settled down, got married, had kids, became a private detective, etc.
At the beginning of The Tenth Virgin (1983), we find Gabe recently divorced after fifteen years of marriage, and missing his two daughters very much. So, when his high school sweetie asks him to return to Salt Lake City and help her out with a problem, he jumps at the chance. By his second recorded adventure, 1986’s The Zarahelma Vision, he’s moved back permanently, and set up shop as a Salt Lake City shamus.
Gabe’s a stubborn investigator, stubborn and secretive. He’s been tagged as a “persistent bastard” and “tight as an owl’s ass about what (he) knows.” He favours jeans and cowboy boots, and he likes both types of music (country AND western) and beer, not to mention massive quantities of coffee and even a good smoke now and then. And he’s not above a little shit-kicking.
So… not exactly a model Mormon. In fact, Gabe’s still got a ton of hangups about his Mormon background, an uncertainity that lifts this series up a notch or two.
There’s also a weird sort of love/distrust/rivalry relationship going on with Mona McKinley, a half-Irish, half-Chicano reporter for The Desert News, the official Mormon newspaper. Mona’s feisty and fiercely independent, and, like Gabe, not altogether impressed with the powers that be.
An impressive couple of books, offering a setting, and raising some questions about spirituality (and not just about the Church of Latter day Saints) that are (still) rarely raised in detective fiction. Too bad there were only two books. The good news is that Brash Books brought them back into print (and digital) in 2022, and if your appetitie’s for Mormon eyes hasbbeen whetted, definitely check out Mormon P.I.’s Moroni Traveler and Jason Coulter, two more better-than-average LDS sleuths who call Salt Lake City home.
Maybe it’s the drinking water.
- “I liked my God ambiguous. That better reflected the world as I knew it.”
- The Tenth Virgin (1983) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
- The Zarahelma Vision (1986) | Buy this book | Kindle it!
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.