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Plume, 9 April 2015. ISBN: 978-0-14-218173-7 (PB)
The Amish are gentle, peace-loving folk, and an Amish-country mystery
with a particularly violent death in the first chapter seems, at first sight,
like a contradiction in terms. But in a way, that’s the whole point of P L
Gaus’s carefully plotted, atmospheric novel, and possibly of his entire series
of Amish-country novels.
Fannie Helmuth is a young
Amish woman, and a key potential witness in a major drugs case; she has gone
missing, in fear for her life. The leading perpetrator is still at large, and
Fannie is in extreme danger until the woman is caught. The Amish community has
ways of protecting its own; as long as she remains among her own people, Fannie
is safe – but the FBI are desperate to lay hands on her, to ensure she is
available to testify when the drug-dealers are finally tracked down.
Sheriff Bruce Robertson is
not Amish himself, but he has great sympathy with them. An Amish community
follows its own traditions and practices within his territory, and he is keen
to shield them not only from the criminal underworld which seems to exist
everywhere, but also from less congenial elements of his own community of
law-keepers. So he devises his own plan to keep Fannie safe, and protect her
and her people from the worst excesses of the FBI.
The result is an engaging
account of how his plan plays out, interwoven with an insight into the ways of
the Amish people. They are the true heroes of the story: old-fashioned and
naive by some standards, but canny and astute under their quaint, ingenuous
exterior. The narrative moves at a leisurely pace, but since that’s how life is
in rural Ohio, it’s appropriate.
The novel contains the
essential elements of a good murder mystery: gruesome death; interesting
characters with plenty of backstory, who make you want to cheer when they get
one over on theFBI men; those
hobnail-booted federal agents ripe for duping, who seem to be de rigueur
in an American mystery set outside the big city; and of course a dramatic final
take-down. But it also has a lot more. There’s a generous helping of gentle
humour; a sense of life going on outside the story, in an environment that is
brought vividly to life; and an ending which is satisfying on its own terms,
though possibly not in a conventional way.
There’s a whole series of
Amish-country mysteries; Whiskers of the Lion is the tenth. They may not
be easily available in UK bookshops, and eBook editions seem to be in short
supply too. I think that’s a great pity.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
P L Gauswas born in Athens, Ohio, in 1949, and he has lived in
Ohio for most of his life.Paul’s extensive knowledge of the culture and
lifestyle of the Ohio Amish comes from over thirty years of travel throughout
Holmes and surrounding counties in Ohio, where the world’s largest Amish and
Mennonite population sprawls out over the countryside near Millersburg,
Wooster, and Sugarcreek. Paul took an interest in writing fiction in 1993, and
with the advice and encouragement of author Tony Hillerman, he began writing
mystery novels set among the Amish in Holmes County, Ohio. The first of Gaus’s
mysteries, Blood of the Prodigal, An
Ohio Amish Mystery, was published by Ohio University Press in June of 1999, and
a total of six novels have appeared in this series: Broken English, 2000, Clouds
without Rain, 2001, Cast a Blue
Shadow, 2003, A Prayer for the Night,
2006, and Separate from the World,
2008. A seventh novel in the series is in preparation. Paul retired recently as
the Benjamin S. Brown Professor of Chemistry at The College of Wooster, where
he was Chairperson of the Chemistry Department. He was educated at Miami
University (B.S.) and Duke University (Ph.D.), and he has held positions as
Visiting Professor of Chemistry at the University of Illinois, Texas A&M
University, University of Wisconsin (Madison), and The Ohio State University.
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen,
and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but
never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher
for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now
burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with
books, about half of them crime fiction.