Hearse and Buggy (Amish Mystery)
by Laura Bradford
Cover Artist: Mary Ann Lasher
Review by Harriet Klausner
Berkley Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425251317
Date: 05 June 2012 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Although she was married for five years to a high flying businessman, Claire Weatherly's husband spent little time with her. She felt bone marrow loneliness that led her to divorce her spouse and move to Heavenly, Pennsylvania where she has stayed at her Aunt Diane's Sleep Heavenly Bed & Breakfast in the heart of Amish country. Claire opens up Heavenly Treasures, a store that sells Amish items. As the locals slowly accept her and she begins making friends, Claire feels contentment for the first time in a long time. That sense of peace ends for her when she finds the body of the former store owner, nasty Walter Snow, in the back alley behind her shop.
Snow cheated the Amish by skimming money from the furniture he sold for them on consignment. The chief suspect is Eli Miller. He not only displayed his anger towards the victim instead of turning the other cheek, Eli recently threatened to harm Snow if he did not return the money the thief stole from the Amish. Eli loves Claire's shy assistant Esther King; his sister Ruth owns the store next door, Shoe Fly Bake Shoppe.
The lead investigator is Police Detective Jakob Fisher who left the community as a teen and only recently returned, but is shunned by the people as his vocation is considered an anathema to the pacifist Amish.
Recently kind-hearted and gentle Ruth has been the victim of escalating violence. No one in either the Englisher or Amish communities can figure out who would hold a grudge against this nice young lady. Feeling she owes Ruth for her warm welcome into the community, Claire decides the best way to show her appreciation is by investigating the homicide and the vandalism. She has a hunch that the two seemingly separate acts of violence are tied together, but has no idea how and by whom. Though she has never done anything remotely like this, as her biggest previous risk was obtaining a divorce, Claire begins her inquiry.
With a nod to Tamara Myers' Pennsylvania Dutch Mysteries, the first Heavenly Amish Mystery is a fascinating cozy that showcases the culture of the people inside of two intriguing whodunits. As a cop shunned by his People including his family, Jakob is a strong example of the customs that enrich a wonderful mystery as he gains reader empathy for his shunning by his family for breaking the moral code of his People.
However, the engaging storyline belongs to Claire. After years of neglect, she has found an inner peace in Heavenly. As her heart heals from her marriage, Claire is attracted to Jakob, but remains wary to act on her feelings before she figures out who she really is and whether she wants a romantic relationship. As she regains her equilibrium Claire proves a competent amateur sleuth by her bringing an outsider perspective to the investigations even as her rationale for sleuthing is a bit weak and what she learns about her new neighbors places her recovery at risk. Laura Bradford provides an entertaining opening act.