Wednesday, February 9, 2011
BLOOD OF THE PRODIGAL by P. L. Gaus
Most evenings, my wife and I read books together. She sits in her chair and reads whatever she is reading (most often science fiction, but sometimes mystery stories), and I sit in mine reading.
When I finished P.L. Gaus' The Blood of the Prodigal, I looked up at her and said, "This is a good book. It gives an insight into a different way of life, and it is a good story besides."
Sometimes I wonder how accurate our glances into closed societies are.
I can't visualize any presently-practicing Old Order Amish ever writing a widely-published book, especially a mystery novel. So whatever glimpse I get will almost always be from the outside.
But this glimpse seems authentic. When Amish Bishop Eli Miller receives a ransom note for his kidnapped grandson, he enlists an outsider to help.
Miller's grandson is the son of the Bishop's son whom the Bishop banned from the community because of his wild ways. "The ban" is an official religious sanction, more than just being banished, more like being shunned. Miller's son is dead to Miller and his community unless he repents and comes back under the authority of the Bishop.
The Bishop still loves his son and wants to protect his grandson, a child the Bishop and this wife have been raising.
The Bishop only wants to know where the child is. He does not want to have him brought back. So the Bishop enlists the help of Church of Christ, Christian Pastor Caleb Troyer to find the boy.
With the Bishop's knowledge, Troyer asks childhood friend and local college professor Michael Brandon and his wife Caroline to help. And the three of them end up involving another childhood friend Sheriff Bruce Robertson.
But there are parts of the Bishop's story that Brandon has promised Bishop Miller he will not tell the authorities.
In other words, Brandon doesn't share parts of what is happening with the sheriff, and thereby hangs the tale.
The Bishop's son ends up being murdered as he attempts to repent and return to his Amish roots. So now the group is looking for the grandson.
As you can tell from this brief description, the book aptly describes the circumscribed living situation of, not just the Amish, but of the others in this Holmes County, Ohio, community. It is a tight-knit, it-matters-whom-you-grew-up-with type of place.
Gaus portrays the Amish way of life sympathetically, but not in a way that papers over what outsiders might see as problems with such a constricted way of living.
And the quietly-told story doesn't have a totally happy ending.
Still, it is a good story, well worth reading if you haven't.
I came to this book through a Mystery Guild trilogy, Murder Most Amish by P.L. Glaus. That means I have two more of these books to read.