As another college year draws to an end, Professor Michael Branden is weary after nearly thirty years of teaching. Sitting in his office on a warm spring day, he receives an unexpected visit from an Amish man who claims his brother, a dwarf like himself, has been murdered. Their discussion of the odd details of the case is interrupted by a commotion on campus, which turns out to be the apparent suicide of a young college woman, who it seems has leapt to her death from the college bell tower.
The investigations of these two deaths become intertwined as Professor Branden again teams up with Pastor Cal Troyer and Sheriff Bruce Robertson to seek explanations for these bizarre events.
Out of all the books so far in the Amish-Country series, this one was my favorite. First off, I believe it's the longest (though not by much) but enough to give the story a bit more depth. Second, this is a really good story dealing with everything from college life to dwarfism to genetics to child kidnapping. It sounds like it goes all over the place but everything somehow ties together in a excellent suspense novel.
What starts off a tragic accident on a college campus leads to a suspicious death in a nearby Amish community that's somehow tied to the kidnapping of an Amish child. The trio of Branden, Troyer and Robertson are dealing with situations close at hand as the incidents are at a personal level. Interestingly this is my second book dealing with the Amish and dwarfism. The book tackles an issue I've only rarely read in other Amish books: the fact that they stay in such close knit communities and rarely let in outsiders means that genetic disorders are continually passed on through the generations. Since they are normally a closed community, researchers aren't usually allowed to test on them and the story shows the resentment that some members have on this situation.
This book also tackles the notion that some might have about the Amish community being akin to a cult. While the main view of the story doesn't lean that way completely, there are a lot of things to think about after reading this book. I really enjoy books that make the characters question their faith, not to discourage them from it, but to make them wonder why they really believe what they believe. It's a really fascinating thought process and a good reminder to anyone who's reading to think about their own beliefs as well.
The suspense in past books have been excellent but this one kicks it up more than a notch. There's basically three mysteries that seem unrelated but then it appears that they all tie together. There's more killings in this book than in previous ones and some of them gets a little disturbing. But Gaus' writing is totally engaging and I really found myself glued to my seat with this book. There are several scenes where I felt chilled by what was going on as well as felt high emotions involving several of the characters.
I've said this several times in the past, but if you really want to get away from the romanticized view of the Amish, you really should try these books. There are not a perfect community and have many faults just as anyone else in this world does. However they are interesting to learn about and these books give that different spin on them with a good dose of suspense and mystery.
Separate From the World by P.L. Gaus is published by Plume (2011)
This ARC was provided by the publisher