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Separate from the World: An Ohio Amish Mystery (The Amish-Country Mysteries) Hardcover – July 8, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In Gaus's excellent sixth Ohio Amish mystery (after 2006's A Prayer for the Night), Enos Erb, an Amish farmer, makes an unusual request of Michael Branden, burned-out history professor and amateur sleuth, given that the Amish practice nonviolence and have no use for the justice system of the outside English world. Erb wants the professor's help finding his brother's murderer. People's unwillingness to confront evil hampers Branden's investigation, which gets interrupted by the apparent suicide of a coed, campus unrest and the kidnapping of an Amish child. Between helping Pastor Cal Troyer cope with a personal crisis and keeping Sheriff Bruce Robertson from blundering impulsively, Brandon realizes that a clever, murderous sociopath is exploiting the preconceptions of Amish and English. While Gaus may not be an elegant stylist, a convincing plot and credible, sympathetic characters make another winner in this fine regional series. (Aug.)
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Professor Michael Branden is tired after 30 years of teaching. The school year is ending, and, as he grades final exams, he wonders whether it is time to retire. An unexpected visit from an Amish man, who claims that his brother was murdered, ends the reverie. Both the man and his brother are dwarfs, a common genetic disorder among the Amish. As they discuss the strange case, a commotion outside interrupts them. It seems that a young woman has committed suicide by jumping from the campus bell tower. Professor Branden—Cast a Blue Shadow (2003), Clouds without Rain (2001)—teams up with his colleagues, Sheriff Bruce Robertson and Pastor Cal Troyer, to find out what really happened. The latest in this too-little-known series again combines a fascinating, realistic look at an Amish community in Ohio with a gently satiric take on academic life. --Barbara Bibel
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Here you have Professor Michael Branden, teacher at a small town college and a native of the area, who has been best friends with the local sheriff, Bruce Robertson, since grade school. Along with another grade school buddy, Caleb Troyer, the local pastor, the trio becomes this group of investigators in a series of books that Gaus gives us, solving mysteries that involve the complexity of the Amish.
In "Separate from the World", we meet the Erb family, and it's descendants, that through apparent cross breeding with the families, has developed an unusual number of dwarf's in the gene pool. The study of the genetics, blood studies and inbreeding becomes a study subject for a number of the students at neighboring at Millersburg College, and surprisingly the Erb family provides them with family history until the split in the Amish way of life is discovered and the elder forbids any further discussion with the students.
At the same time an apparent suicide of a female student opens an investigation into improprieties from another professor which opens the lead for Gaus to link her death with the controversial genetics study into the Erb family. He leads us a circuitous route, unraveling clues until the very last moment, leading to a very satisfying ending.
Separate from the World: An Ohio Amish Mystery (The Amish-Country Mysteries)
The book begins with the apparent accidental death of an Amish man and the apparent suicide of a college girl. These seemingly unrelated events are followed by more strange occurrences. It seems impossible that there could be any connection between all of these incidents but of course there is and Gaus cleverly leads us to the solution. The "detective" is Michael Brandon, a professor of history at the college. Brandon is assisted (and sometimes hindered) by his friends, the sheriff and a local minister, as well as by his wife.
At the beginning Brandon is depressed by the grading he has to do at the end of the academic year and wonders if he should give up teaching after more than thirty years. Then the death of the girl who was one of his students does not help. At the same time an Amish man visits him and tells him that the apparent suicide of his brother was really murder. Of course, I will not tell you much more of the clever plot. I don't want to spoil the joy of your matching your wits with Brandon in solving the mysteries.
The author shows real understanding of Amish culture and also of the culture of academe. And, although he is sympathetic with both worlds, he shows the darker sides of each as well. In the academic world, we read about student cheating, partying and studying; faculty and student protests against war and the police: and the pressures of presidential fund raising. Town/gown problems are evident here as well.
Amish beliefs and culture are portrayed sympathetically but the "English," as the Amish refer to outsiders, are frustrated and sometimes angered by the non-resistance of the Amish. When asked if they are not going to do anything to protect themselves, they answer that they are praying. The Amish show patience and peace throughout their troubles. They believe that suffering is God's will for them and that they will grow through the process.
Following is a fragment of a conversation between the professor and the Amish man,
"Humility is the ..."
"Yes, I know - the strongest virtue."
"No Professor. The most beautiful virtue."
The "English" are upset with what they believe are inconsistencies in the Amish use or refusal to use technology or science. One of the problems in the book is that there is a split in the Amish congregation about whether or not to cooperate with a genetic study by college professors and students. Scientists want to study the occurrence of genetic defects among the Amish because of the limited gene pool among them due to the fact that few outsiders marry Amish. On the other hand the Amish believe that the "English" are also inconsistent. The Amish bishop says to Brandon, "Answer this question for me, Professor. We do not understand. How can English be opposed to abortion but in favor of war? Or how can English be opposed to war but in favor of abortion? Are they not both killing?"
I have given just a few of the thought-provoking descriptions of college and Amish life contained in the book. The reader can learn much about both cultures from this captivating and well-written mystery.
This review originally appeared in
THE ENGLEWOOD REVIEW OF BOOKS, Vol. 1, #43
This is the sixth book in a series by Gaus. It reminds me of the Hillerman books about SW Native Americans, in that a good story is used to convey understanding about various aspects of a different element (in this case Amish) of American culture. Most of the books in the series are quite good, although the second, Broken English, dove too deeply into technical aspects of weaponry and destroyed the focus on the human element. Separate from the World cleverly shows the conflicts within the Amish community over dealing with science and the "English" (the non-Amish).