Later in March, I'm moderating a panel called "Juggling Series: Writers with Multiple Mystery Series". Laura Bradford is one of those authors. As Elizabeth Lynn Casey, she writes the Southern Sewing Circle mysteries. Under Laura Bradford, she writes the Amish mysteries. After reading her latest Amish mystery, Shunned and Dangerous, I want to know how she does her research. I have never read a book, fiction or nonfiction, that did such a superb job of exploring the anguish of those separated from their Amish families. Bradford explores that pain while writing an absorbing mystery.
Claire Weatherly is struggling with the fear of loss. She worries she might not have the money to continue to operate her shop, Heavenly Treasures. She's so happy that her new friend, Esther, has accepted the marriage proposal from her boyfriend, Eli. However, she is stunned when she learns Esther won't work in the shop anymore after her marriage. Amish women stay home, running the home and raising a family. For one night, though, Claire can escape the fear of losing the life she's grown to love in Heavenly, Pennsylvania, and she sets out to explore a puzzling corn maze on Mose Fisher's farm. But, one puzzle leads to another when Claire finds Harley Zook's body in the maze.
Who would want to murder Harley Zook, a kind man who helped out around the inn that Claire's aunt owns? Unfortunately, Harley had a long history that Claire didn't know. He was one Amish man who stood up for Jakob Fisher when he left the Amish community to become a police officer. Time and again, he stood up to Jakob's father, Mose, interceding for the son who had been shunned. Harley even took an apprentice, the son of the man found guilty of killing Harley's brother. Now, Detective Jakob Fisher, along with so many in the Amish community, believe Jakob's father finally snapped. How can Jakob find the strength to investigate his father when Mose won't even talk to his son? Seeing Jakob's agony, Claire offers to do what she can to question those Amish who won't talk to the police officer they shunned.
Cozy mysteries have gained a reputation as light and fluffy, a reputation that is not deserved. Some authors, such as Ellery Adams and Laura Bradford, bring an unexpected depth, even pain, to their stories. Life isn't easy for their characters who struggle with loss and relationships. Claire attempts to understand the Ordnung, the unwritten Amish code that took Jakob Fisher's childhood family from him, "A family he lost the day he left his Amish upbringing in favor of donning a police uniform." As Claire struggles for understanding, the reader discovers the nuances of a culture that is foreign to most of us.
Shunned and Dangerous is a thought-provoking mystery. Shunned and Dangerous fits all the rules for a cozy mystery. It's set in a small community where everyone knows the victim. The violence isn't graphic. At the same time, nothing tears a family and a community apart like murder. And, Bradford's complex stories show that it's difficult to bring families back together after they're destroyed. She points to the wreckage of lives when families are torn apart. Laura Bradford, like Ellery Adams, uses human relationships as the basis for her outstanding mysteries.
Laura Bradford's website is www.laurabradford.com
Shunned and Dangerous by Laura Bradford. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425252437 (paperback), 275p.
I have one copy of Shunned and Dangerous to send to a lucky winner. Email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject line should read "Win Shunned and Dangerous." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end at 6 p.m. Friday night, March 7. I'll put the book in the mail on Saturday.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.