This novel has received mixed reviews but I thoroughly enjoyed it and found "The 19th Wife" to be two diverting stories in one. In modern-day Utah, Jordan Scott, a young teenager excommunicated from a heretical Mormon sect that still engages in polygamy, tries to unravel the mystery of his father's murder in order to free his mother, who has been accused of the crime. Interspersed in this story is a fictionalised account of the life of Eliza Ann Young, the "19th wife" of the nineteenth century Mormon leader, Brigham Young. Eliza Ann was notable for speaking out against polygamy and her efforts are part of the reason the Mormons eventually abandoned the practice.
For me, the historical sections were the real "meat" of this book, fascinating in their detail and very well-executed. Eliza Ann Young's voice comes across very strongly and her struggle for independence, autonomy and dignity is highly readable. I found the modern strand of the story, curiously, to be less convincing and "real"; Jordan is not the living, breathing character that Eliza Ann is, although he is likeable enough. The contrast between the skill with which the historical sections are written, and the slightly clumsy narrative of Jordan, almost suggested to me that Ebershoff wanted us to think that Jordan was something of an unreliable narrator - at various places it seemed as if we were being spun a yarn by this young man rather than being told what really happened.
It is also true that the murder mystery is less involved and less satisfyingly resolved than it might have been, which seems to be a result of the "Jordan" sections being somewhat underwritten. Those expecting a modern-day crime novel will be disappointed as most of the book concerns historical Mormonism and Jordan's efforts to establish himself in a life beyond the sect he was born into.
Nevertheless, this book is still a very enjoyable read and I found it compelling. This book is six hundred pages long and perhaps could have done with a little trimming in places, but as I was enjoying the story and the company of the characters, the length of "The 19th Wife" did not bother me too much.