Laura Bradford’s “Suspendered Sentence” continues the story of Claire and Jakob in the fourth book of her bestselling Amish Mystery series. Claire Weatherly, big city escapee and now shopkeeper in the Amish community of Heavenly, Pennsylvania, lives in her aunt’s bed & breakfast, helps with the Inn’s upkeep and enjoys her simpler country life.
Claire’s heart is mending after a bad marriage, and she has come to value her time with Jakob Fisher, a shunned former member of the Amish, a Detective on the police force that oversees law enforcement for the entire town, including the Amish.
In “Suspendered Sentence,” an Amish barn burns to the ground and when the barn raising begins, a skeleton is found on the property. If that isn’t enough, the skeleton is found with a bracelet that had been given to a missing girl some 15 years before. Jakob must investigate, but being shunned, is not allowed to speak with the Amish directly about what has occurred. Claire continues her intermediary role in order to get to the truth. Their relationship has developed quietly through the series, as their attraction to each other warms, moving beyond their investigative bond.
Bradford skillfully weaves in details of Amish culture, with more about the Rumspringa tradition in “Suspendered Sentence.” During Rumspringa season, the sixteen year olds experience the world beyond the isolated community and afterwards are able make an informed choice about becoming baptized and living out their lives as Amish. Occasionally, teens do leave permanently after Rumspringa, but the ones that stay supposedly have no regrets or worries about what they might be missing by staying. So, when the murdered girl had originally disappeared during Rumspringa, nobody went looking for her. It was unexpected to have no goodbyes, but not unheard of.
In the course of the investigation, terrible and unexpected secrets are revealed, jealousy is uncovered, and bitterness erupts in destructive ways. The characters’ relationships are touching and difficult and quite real in this outwardly gentle community. We feel the pain, the anguish and finally horror as long hidden truths are laid bare and discussed.
Bradford’s effective use of Amish cultural values as a plot device, some of which might make little sense to an outsider, keeps us turning the pages in this well written mystery. The barn raising after the fire in “Suspendered Sentence,” is a fascinating look at how the community bands together when disaster strikes. We learn why Jakob is not allowed to speak with his own family members and along the way, Aunt Diane provides comforting advice and insight to Claire about the Amish.
Layers of complex stories involve both communities, with elections, family squabbles, new employees, the lives of the English and the Amish both clashing and blending, all leading to a surprising outcome.
“Suspendered Sentence” is a wonderful addition to the series. 🙂
Please visit www.laurabradford.com for more information about Bradford and the Amish Mystery series, as well as other books she writes under a pseudonym.