‘Thrilled to Death (A Detective Jackson Mystery)’ by L J Sellers (published by Thomas and Mercer) can be found here.
‘A Merry Heart (Brides of Lancaster County)’ by Wanda E Brustetter (published by Barbour) can be found here.
Although both books are written by American authors, contemporary and set in the United States, they are as different from each other as the cliche-ed chalk and cheese.
‘Thrilled to Death’ by L J Sellers
‘Thrilled to Death’ is mainstream crime, set in Eugene, Oregon (which I’m sure I visited in 1982), and featuring a ‘cop’ and all the evils of modern life: war casualties, sex, people trafficking and rich kids with too much time and money. Whilst searching for Danette, the daughter-in-law of his girlfriend Kera, who has disappeared leaving Kera babysitting Danette’s baby, he is sceptical when the wayward daughter of a local tycoon is also reported missing… until her body is found. This doesn’t help him find Danette, until he realises how the paths of the two women have crossed, even though they don’t know each other.
‘Thrilled to Death’ held my attention from beginning to end. Seeing it on the ‘Amazon.co. uk recommends’ list, I dipped into it without any serious intentions, Dear Reader, but I was so hooked at the end of the ‘look inside’ preview that I had to ‘Buy now with one click’ in order to continue reading. I do enjoy crime fiction and I probably spend too much time reading it, knowing, as I do, that I will never (can never) attempt to write it. Detective Jackson made me aware of how detectives have moved on in the last few years, a long way from all-conquering, macho, loner cops; Jackson had a family (a daughter, whom at one point he had to pick up from school), a girlfriend, a medical condition and – most telling of all – feelings and principles. Several times in the book, the point was made that Jackson was not going to beat his villains to a pulp, whatever crimes they might have committed.
L J Sellers wrote sensitively about some sensitive subjects. She understood how far she could go in describing a particularly nasty kidnapping and, judiciously, left the baby with its grandmother, judging that harm and distress being caused to an infant would drive her readers away. The book contained too many characters, especially Jackson’s crime team, whom I didn’t feel I knew at all, whereas I have become acquainted with the colleagues of many (fictional) British detectives.
L J wrote knowledgably about Oregon and Eugene, but followed the modern trend of describing a city and a neighbourhood as if all her readers knew it intimately, almost as if she were writing for a local newspaper. (Despite possibly visiting in 1982) I am not familiar with the streets and districts of Eugene, nor with those in any of the other (largely) American and (some) British cities I’ve read about recently. How would you, Dear Reader, like it if I wrote, “I headed up the Avenue of Remembrance, joined the usual long queue of traffic at the Essex Hall Roundabout and eventually made my way up West Way?” Would you have a clue what I was describing or, more importantly, be able to visualise the scene?
‘A Merry Heart’ by Wanda E Brustetter
It was Rachel Carrera (whose blog I follow) who recommended Amish fiction, something which I didn’t previously know existed. I have a soft spot for all things Amish, especially their food, which is everything good about American cuisine but without french fries or burgers. My family laugh at me because, during a six day stay in Sarasota, Florida, I insisted on visiting the Amish restaurant twice. Although I realise (on looking back through her blog) that Rachel celebrates the work of Amish author Beverly Lewis, when I myself did an Amazon search for Amish fiction, I found Wanda E Brustetter and her ‘Brides of Lancaster’ series. Despite not being Amish herself, Wanda understands the ‘Plain People’ very well and I read that the Amish community are quite happy about the way she writes about them. I was fascinated to learn that the Amish will use battery-powered devices, for instance, but not a powerline to their houses, and will accept lifts in a motorvan to local towns. They also hospitals when they need to. By the way, both Wanda and Beverly also write Amish cookery books.
Warning! This is Christian fiction. (Want to go? OK. See you!) Before you do go, though, I might just mention that I have a Christian story published on Alfie Dog, about a woman who won ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ and felt guilty about having so much money. I would like to write more, but I’m too shy and too British to write strong Christian themes like Wanda does.
‘A Merry Heart’ is about a young Amish schoolteacher, Miriam, who has been jilted by her lover and cannot get over
it. She suffers badly from migraines and – quite obviously to me – is clinically depressed, although the D word was never mentioned once, which is surprising in view of it being a modern novel (published 2006) and the Amish appreciating what they need to incorporate from the world around them. Her problem is made worse by the fact that her family and the ‘Plain Folk’ around her expect her to marry somebody and can’t understand why she doesn’t accept the attentions of the local blacksmith, Amos Hilty, a widower with a delightful six year old daughter. She also meets a local journalist, Nick, who befriends her and eventually asks her to marry him, but her answer is a statement of fact, to the effect that, if she marries outside the Amish community, none of her family or friends will speak to her again. (Nothing here about ‘How terrible’ or anything risking all ‘for love’).
This basically is the gist of the storyline, and we got there in the first hundred pages. Without giving away the ending, the conclusion is the obvious one, with no twists or surprises. Not a story for contemporary tastes, but as a Christian story, it makes perfect sense, as someone who struggled with her faith and her lot and dealt with it. By the way, the book ends with a recipe for chocolate peanut butter cookies.
Here I am writing this and listening to The Rolling Stones on telly, ‘Ruby Tuesday’, always my favourite Stones song. I’m sure the Amish never did The Stones. I know we’re all sinners, but… you know what I mean.