Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Broken English by P.L. Gaus is a flawed story, but a good book.

Three childhood friends--Professor Michael Branden (and his wife Caroline), Sheriff Bruce Robertson, and Pastor Cal Troyer--work to solve the murder of a local newspaper reporter. 

The reporter was reporting on another Millersburg, Ohio, break-in and murder. 

The whole story involves David Hawkins, a parishioner of Troyer's, who has just converted to a fundamentalist Amish sect and is now engaged to marry an Amish woman.

The English (an Amish name for the non-Amish) and the Amish have very different values.   Did Hawkins adhere to the Amish code of forgiveness, or did he kill the reporter to cover up his own violent past?  

Despite indications otherwise, Troyer is convinced his parishioner is innocent.  Branden is not so sure.  And Robertson believes (strongly) that the man is guilty.

So, there's the conflict. It is a conflict between life-long friends. Did Hawkins live the Amish or the English way?  And if he lived the Amish way, who killed the reporter?

Any of the four main characters are strong enough to carry a story alone. While the story, as it works out, seems weak and contrived, the relationships between the people are real.  And the setting pulses with small town and Amish values.

At one point, Daivd Hawkins' fiancee Abigail Raber (whose face has been disfigured in an accident) finds herself thinking--

"They were to be married. Father had promised her hand, But only after a two-year courtship.  David had done so well. His conversion was real; she knew that with a lover's assurance.  Knew it in her soul, where words were indadequate to express her deepest thoughts.  She knew it in her prayers, where the Spirit spoke to her, spoke for her, spoke for them.  And she knew it because of the irrevocable promises of the most uncommon man she had ever known.  Because of the promises of the only man who had understood her.  Because of the word of the man who had rescued her from a sure fate in her closed society."

And at another point, Gaus writes--

"It made such perfect sense in the only terms that Abigail Raber could understand.  It made such an absolutely reasonable truth.  The burden of revenge was a lifetime's staggering weight.  To seek revenge and to act upon that worldly impulse could bring only a worse fate.  To kill for revenge would do as much damage to the soul of the killer as it did to the life of a victim.  To strike in violence was forbidden.  Even to respond in kind to a threat was forbidden.  The life of peace was the only way to heaven.  There were good scriptures that put retribution out of the reach of the Peaceful Ones.  The Plain People knew from their lives of martyrdom in Europe that the violence of resistence multiplied itself a dozen times over to the detrement of all.  So, in Abigail's world, the thought of vengeance was as foreign as the thought of war."

The book is filled with that kind of writing.  The characters are alive and real, especially the four main characters.

This book is the second in P.L. Gaus' series about the Ohio Amish.  For me, the book was not of the same quality as the first book in the series (Blood of the Prodigal). 

I read the book in an anthology of the first three books in the series.  I still have the third book, Clouds Without Rain, to read.  I look forward to reading it.

This anthology Murder Most Amish is available from Mystery Guild which is where I bought it.

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