Thursday, June 07, 2012

Hearse and Buggy by Laura Bradford

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.

Laura Bradford's website is

Hearse and Buggy by Laura Bradford. Berkley Prime Crime. 2012. ISBN 9780425251317 (paperback), 275p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Jane R said...

This sounds like a title that I want to move to the top of my reading list. Thanks for the great review!

Barbara said...

I'm kind of new to your site & I can't help but wonder what are the names of the 2 other outstanding debut cozies that you mentioned??? (also looking for good new cozies).