In Ohio’s Amish country 10 year-old Jeremiah Miller goes missing from his grandfather’s farm one morning.The boy’s grandfather, Bishop of one of the stricter groups of Amish in the area, reluctantly turns to two ‘Englishers’ for help finding him, though with strict instructions about how involved they can be and who they can tell. Pastor Caleb Troyer and his friend Professor Michael Branden agree to help with all the conditions specified by Bishop Miller, including his demand that the police not be informed. The Bishop believes the boy has been taken by his father, the Bishop’s son Jonah, who was banned from the community ten years earlier.
I am a sucker for the stories of outsiders, especially those who choose to remain separate from mainstream society, and you can’t get much more ‘separate’ than the Amish. However I’ve read a couple of fairly ordinary, superficial books featuring this community and have become wary of writers who have jumped on a bandwagon but was drawn to try P.L. Gaus’ series after reading some rave reviews at Kittling:Books. And that blog’s excellent host was right, Paul Gaus does seem to know his subject, being what I have gleaned from his bio an amateur expert after living in the area for 30+ years. This book, the first of what is currently a series of seven, provides loads of interesting details about the Amish way of life and beliefs and offers neither condemnation nor sycophantic praise of the community’s choices which is a very rare thing indeed. Very occasionally the exposition is a little clunky but for the most part it is seamlessly incorporated into the story.
The story itself is a fairly simple one, though compelling in its focus on the missing boy and the idea that Bishop Miller knows more than he has let on to those outside his community who he trusts, but only to a point. The two friends undertake a creditable private investigation which is made difficult due to the many Amish people unwilling to talk to them. When they are forced to join forces with local police due to someone being murdered before Jeremiah is found, the transition to a more formal investigation which allows the amateurs to be involved is believable. I must admit though I’m still not entirely clear how it is that a pastor and a professor became the ‘go-to guys’ for the Amish (or anyone else for that matter) and overall I thought the introduction to this element of the series was not handled as well as it might have been. At several points I was sure I’d made a mistake and chosen something other than the series opener to read, as prior experiences of the main characters were written in such a way as to make me think they’d been discussed more fully in an earlier book I’d missed (but I have triple checked and this is indeed the first book of the series).
That aside though the characters are nicely drawn. The most intriguing for me was Bishop Miller who in some ways is a minor character but his influence is felt by almost everyone in the story and it is his decisions that have the biggest impact. He banishes his own son from his community, he invites the outside help, he decides what to tell the outsiders and when. His personal struggles with those decisions are delicately but credibly teased out. Towards the end of the book there’s a particularly touching scene where he shares his thoughts at a funeral service and my worry that it might be get too mushy or preachy was unwarranted.
BLOOD OF THE PRODIGAL is not a perfect book but as a debut novel it shows a lot of promise, having introduced interesting characters and dealt with its subject matter sensitively and intelligently. I’m not sure there is endless scope for engagingly credible stories to come out of such a closed community but I’d be very happy to read the next one in the series. Happily for me the next few have all been narrated by George Newburn so I’ll be heading back to Ohio’s Amish community at some point.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3/5
Narrator George Newburn
Publisher Random House Audio [this audio book 2011, original edition 1999]
Length 6 hours 55 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #1 in the Ohio Amish Series
Source I bought it
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