There are readers (not of this blog!) who denigrate mysteries as not being literary. And, some readers of thrillers and other mysteries see cozy mysteries as a less important part of the genre. However, Laura Bradford succeeds brilliantly with Suspendered Sentence, her latest Amish mystery, in showing the destructive elements and the sorrow caused by a death that is covered up. She contrasts the simple, peaceful life in an Amish community with the turmoil and long-reaching consequences of death and secrets. And, it's that contrast that makes the story more vivid and disturbing.
Claire Weatherly, owner of a shop in Heavenly, Pennsylvania, is visiting with police detective Jakob Fisher when he receives a call about a fire on an Amish farm. And, within a couple days, the Amish community has come together to raze the barn, and build a new one. In clearing the land, though, a young digger discovers a skeleton, the body of a teen who has been missing for nineteen years. All of the secrets about the girl's death will finally be revealed, along with a worse story. Lives in the community will never be the same as Jakob investigates, and Claire talks to Amish acquaintances.
Laura Bradford's mysteries are quiet stories, befitting the peaceful community she describes. In each one, she digs deeper into the fascinating culture, revealing details of life most readers don't know. Over the course of the series, we've read about shunning, and seen it's effect on Jakob Fisher, exiled from his family. Now, she focuses on Rumspringa, the time when Amish teens are allowed to experiment with the English world, to decide for themselves whether they want to be baptized and live their lives as Amish. The tragedies of Suspendered Sentence lead back to a Rumspringa years earlier. But, Claire also spends time with a teen who is experimenting during her Rumspringa.
Death and sorrow are not treated lightly in Bradford's Amish mysteries. They're treated carefully; carefully investigated by the police while Claire, who has grown fond of her Amish friends, questions, searching for understanding. In fact, these mysteries serve to develop an understanding of the Amish lifestyle, while revealing the people, ordinary people with the same fears and joys as others. The mysteries set in Heavenly, Pennsylvania, look into the human heart, beginning with Claire's. Everything she learns there allows her to open up her heart to the community and to the possibility of love. Claire finds friendship and hope in Heavenly.
Suspendered Sentence, and all the other mysteries in the Amish Mystery series, succeed in revealing how tragedy changes lives a community. Readers can dip into the Amish lifestyle while unraveling clues that reveal mysteries of life as well as tragic loss. Who needs so-called "literary" novels? Laura Bradford's mysteries of the Amish lifestyle and a small town reveal the human heart.
Laura Bradford's website is www.laurabradford.com
Suspendered Sentence by Laura Bradford. Berkley Prime Crime. 2015. ISBN 9780425273029 (paperback), 293p.