|Claire Weatherly has left her life married to a Wall Street maven for a quieter, simpler life in Heavenly, Pennsylvania where she is the owner of an Amish crafts market, Heavenly Treasures. Claire lives with her aunt in Diane's bed and breakfast and is becoming acquainted with the Amish crafts people, many of whom were cheated by the former owner of Claire's store, Walter Snow, who left town without paying the commissions due his suppliers.
Claire is particularly fond of Esther, the young woman who works in Claire's shop who is sweet on Eli, a young Amish man who is known for his quick temper, an uncharacteristic trait for these peaceful people. One morning, the body of Walter Snow is found in the alley between Heavenly Treasures and the Shoo Fly Bakery which has been the site of some recent petty vandalism, including broken milk bottles.
Investigating Walter's death, determined to be a murder, is Detective Jakob Fisher, a former Heavenly resident of Amish upbringing, who left the community after he was baptized, causing his friends and family, including Esther, to shun him. Detective Fisher knows he must interview and speak with the Amish in order to properly investigate Snow's murder, but many of the Amish refuse to speak to him. Claire realizes she is the best connection between the English and the Amish and begins to draw her Amish neighbors into her confidence hoping that she doesn't find one of her new friends is a murderer.
Hearse and Buggy is one of the best debut cozy mysteries in a long while. The characters are well drawn; the setting not only draws readers in, but conveys the sense of serenity Claire is longing for. Laura Bradford has been very respectful of her depiction of the Amish and their simpler life and seems to get the details right. Jakob's struggle with his decision is thoughtful and wistful, as is the time Claire spends with young Amish widow Benjamin who may have been close with Jakob when the two were younger.
When a murderer is caught and revealed, readers will not be disappointed, though they may be surprised at the motive. Throughout the book, Claire wrestles with the notion of shunning a family member and tries to find ways to reconcile Jakob with his family, though it is against strict Amish rule, adding yet another layer to the storyline.
--Jennifer Monahan Winberry