Monday, May 9, 2011

CLOUDS WITHOUT RAIN by P.L. Gaus

"These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm--shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted--twice dead." (Jude 1:12, NIV)

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P.L. Gaus' Clouds Without Rain is the third in his series of Amish mysteries.

Three high school friends--Preacher Cal Troyer, Professor Michael Branden, and Sheriff Bruce Robertson--again struggle with an Amish mystery.  This time it is a terrible buggy/semi-trailer-truck accident which is more than an accident.

In this book, Sheriff Bruce Robertson lies on the edge of death from burns he got while trying to save a deputy whose car was involved in the accident.  

This is Michael Branden's story.  He is the one who works through the complex series of events involving the economic development of the Amish country of Holmes County, Ohio.

As one who lived in a well-developed tourist area (the Missouri Lake of the Ozarks), I could fully understand what was happening.  At one point, Gaus writes about Branden driving through the town of Millersburg:

"Branden fell in behind a dump truck loaded with gravel and started the crawl westward through town.  On his cell phone, he tried Cal Troyer's number at the church, and left a message on the machine.  Next he tried the number at the coroner's office in the hospital.  He let it ring several times, but Melissa Taggert's answering machine did not pick up.

"As he sat in the traffic, he remembered her first year in Millersburg. . . . She could have gone anywhere, Branden realized, but she came to sleepy Millersburg because of the uncomplicated quality of life in Holmes Country.  She settled for the life of a small-town coroner, trading salary and the perks of a big-city job for the country life.  She had responded to the same allure of down-home living that had inspired Holmes Estate to develop farmland, so that rich people from places such as Cleveland, Columbus, or Pittsburgh could put up half-million-dollar houses on five acres of hillside, over-looking the picturesque fields of an Amish neighbor's farm."


In other words, the Amish way of life has led to a kind of tourism and vacation-home-living which is in the process of destroying the Amish way of life.  


At its heart, the story involves a complex pyramid scheme which reminded me of the banking shenanigans leading up to the U.S.'s recent recession.

Greed and development (along with a Satanic cult, a crushing drought, and another murder) push the story forward.  The conclusion is complex, and all the time Bruce Robertson's life hangs in the balance.

This book was the third of P.L. Gaus' Amish mysteries.  Like the others, Gaus' novels are the most authentic Amish mystery stories I have read.  


We lived in two different small towns with Amish settlements around them.  The Amish have found Missouri.  And much of what Gaus writes seems authentic to me.  Of course, it is not written from the inside.  I can't visualize that ever happening, but the stories do portray the same kind of fundamentalist but at the same time contrastingly-peaceful approach to life that the Amish folks I knew also pursued.

I read this book as part of a collection called Murder Most Amish bought from The Mystery Guild.  The collection had the first three of Gaus' Amish novels.  All three of them were worth my time to read. 

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