There's a wealth of mysteries set in Ohio's Amish country, from Avery Aames' Cheese Shop mysteries, to P.L. Gaus' mysteries set in Holmes County, and Linda Castillo's more violent ones set in the fictional Painters Mill. Laura Bradford puts her own stamp on Amish mysteries, setting the first in her new series in Heavenly, Pennsylvania in Lancaster County. And, it's a distinct, original stamp. Hearse and Buggy may appear to be a cozy mystery, however it's a mystery with a great deal of depth, obsession, and issues involving the Amish way of life.
Claire Weatherly left her ex-husband and a lonely life in New York City to move to Heavenly where her aunt Diane owns a bed-and-breakfast. At thirty-one, she's trying to remake her life as owner of Heavenly Treasures, a small shop that sells candles she makes, along with handcrafted items by her employee, Esther King. Claire hopes that she'll be able to overcome the distrust some of the Amish have for English shopkeepers. But, the previous tenant of Claire's store, Walter Snow, cheated some of the Amish furniture makers of their money before he disappeared.
But, Walter Snow didn't completely disappear. When his body turns up behind Claire's shop, Esther worries that Eli Miller, a hot-tempered Amish man who she admires, might have been involved. In fact, many of the Amish think Eli might have gotten carried away. He lost money to Walter, and Eli was known to have threatened Snow. Eli has even been warned by the Amish, but he always repented.
One man who couldn't repent, though, is Detective Jakob Fisher, the new police detective in town. Jakob was once Amish, and lived in Heavenly, but he left town to become a policeman sixteen years earlier. He was shunned, and even his own family, including his sister, who is Esther's mother, is forbidden to talk to him. Claire understands his loneliness and pain, and offers to intercede, acting as a mediator. Even that won't help if Jakob has to arrest Eli Miller for murder.
Claire Weatherly is a perfect amateur sleuth. Her desire for a simple life, her appreciation for tradition, and her aunt's long-standing connection to the town, allows her to be accepted in Heavenly. As a newcomer in town, she can ask the questions about Amish tradition that the reader wants to know. She's an outsider who allows us to have a glimpse into a world we are always curious about. And, as an accepted outsider, she's the perfect link between a shunned detective and the Amish community..
There are multiple crimes in Hearse and Buggy, not just murder. And, a couple Amish women know more than they are willing to tell, as they try to protect men they love. An avid mystery reader will catch the culprits involved. However, Hearse and Buggy is so much more than a simple mystery. It's the story of a small community where "community" is destroyed by suspicion and crime. And, it's a story of loneliness, a story of tradition, and respect for tradition.
I can't agree with Harlan Coben that it's "The best cozy mystery debut I've read this year," since I've read two other outstanding debut cozies as well. I can say that Laura Bradford's Hearse and Buggy is undoubtedly one of the best cozy mysteries I've read this year. It is meaty, with an intriguing background, and it provides an education as to the Amish culture. And, Bradford's characters are some of the best-developed, most interesting ones I've come across in a cozy mystery. With Hearse and Buggy, Bradford has taken the Amish mystery, and successfully made it her own.
I have been a library manager/administrator for over 30 years, in Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and, now, Indiana. Winner of the 2011 Arizona Library Association Outstanding Library Service Award. I am a contributing Book Reviewer for Library Journal, Mystery Readers Journal, ReadertoReader.com and VibrantNation.com. Winner of the 2009 and 2010 Spinetingler Awards for Best Reviewer. First Fan Guest of Honor for Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Write Now! Conference.
It's an honor to be asked to review books, and I'm grateful to all the publishers, publicists, and authors who send me books. Thank you. Reviews will appear on my blog if I've had a chance to read, and finish, the book. If I do not finish a book, I won't review it, and I will not respond to emails asking when, or if, I'll be reviewing a book.
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My Oct. 19, 2009 blog provides full disclosure that I only receive review copies of books, with no other compensation. All review copies are marked as such. If there any any questions, please feel free to contact me.