I picked this one up at the SIBA Trade Show last month in Daytona Beach, and had no idea that it was being re-released this year after it's original publication in 1999 by a different press. I also had no idea that this book could be categorized and accepted in Christian fiction -- I don't think I've read one novel in that genre, and really never thought that I would. Not sure why, but I just never thought I'd be interested by it.
Well, this book has certainly changed my perception of Christian fiction, and mysteries as well. Blood of the Prodigal, by P.L. Gaus is a mystery novel set in the Amish countryside of Ohio. Early one morning, young Jeremiah Miller is abducted from the farm, and his grandfather Bishop Miller, is forced to enlist the help of one of the "English," a person outside of the Amish world. As one of the Plain People who does not associate with those outside of his community, the Bishop is now forced to ask for help from it. Professor Branden, however, has earned the Bishop's trust, and begins to investigate where his grandson may be. He has been asked to not involve the police, and Professor Branden honors this request.
The Bishop, surprisingly, isn't as concerned in finding his own son, Jonah, a young man who never took his Amish vows and left the community ten years prior. He went through the Rumschpringe, which is a permitted period of time in which teenagers starting around the age of sixteen begin to "run around" as some term it -- officially, it's a time to court and find a spouse. Unofficially, and embraced by the press in order to sensationalize it, it's viewed as a time when young Amish boys and girls explore non-Amish ways. Either way, Jonah Miller was pretty wild, and subsequently was shunned from the community, a ban that Bishop Miller placed on Jonah himself. Soon, the mystery develops into a two-fold one, in which not only is a kidnapping to be investigated, but also a murder, and Professor Branden is trusted and tasked to make sense of it all.
I enjoyed this quite a bit. Although a quick read, it's an exceptionally smart mystery, and it certainly does an effective job in telling a sound story full of absorbing insights into the Amish way of life. There are intelligent layers within this story, of both the personal lives of the Professor and his wife, but also of the Amish community and the politics of the English living side by side with the Plain People. The characters were exceedingly interesting with each scene (my personal favorites: the Professor, his wife, and Sheriff Robertson), and I was caught up in the mystery of it all. I had no idea who did the kidnapping, who committed murder, until the scenes unfolded before me. P.L. Gaus has combined the surrounding Amish countryside and charming characters into a developed and well-researched journey of a mystery. This is book one in the Amish-Country Mystery series, so there's no doubt that I'm interested to pick up the next one.
I also must admit that there were times, especially towards the end, when my throat closed up as I read, and I'm pretty sure if someone asked me a question at that exact moment, or tried to talk with me, I'd have to blink back some tears and collect myself before trying to speak.
This is educational to the core, and it all began to tantalize that greedy little bone in my body that loves to learn as much as I can about anything. I have visited the Amish countryside in Pennsylvania once or twice as a kid, and loved it. There was one particular time in which the bus that I was on slowly drove past a group of children playing in the fields, and one little boy quickly stuck his tongue out at us. I used to think it was funny, and of course as I got older, in looking back at that event, and reinforced by reading this book, I quite understand that little boy's frustrations at all of the "English" tourists. It wasn't a zoo that the bus was traveling through; this was their home. I have made a mental note to myself that I would like to visit the Amish country again, but I will definitely ensure that I am more respectful than the silly tour company that I was on twenty-some years ago.
About the Author
Paul Louis Gaus lives with his wife, Madonna, in Wooster, Ohio, just a few miles north of Holmes County, where the world's largest and most varied settlement of Amish and Mennonite people is found. His knowledge of the culture of the "Plain People" stems from more than thirty years of extensive exploration of the narrow blacktop roads and lesser gravel lanes of this pastoral community, which includes several dozen sects of Anabaptists living closely among the so-called English or Yankee non-Amish people of the country. Paul lectures widely about the Amish people he has met and about the lifestyles, culture, and religion of this remarkable community of Christian pacifists.
Visit the author's site by clicking here.
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