Friday, July 6, 2012

Review: Harmless as Doves by P.L. Gaus

Paperback, 224 pages
Expected publication: June 26th 2012 by Plume (first published June 15th 2011)
ISBN: 0452297869 (ISBN13: 9780452297869)
edition language English

From the publisher:

As he goes about his milking chores on a cold October morning, Bishop Leon Shetler daydreams of escaping the Ohio winter and taking a bus to the Pinecraft Amish community in Florida for a vacation. His reverie is suddenly interrupted when young Crist Burkholder enters the barn, head down, hat in hand, to make a confession. “I just killed Glenn Spiegle.”

“An Amish murderer?” Sheriff Robertson asks when he arrives on the scene. “Who will believe that?” But Burkholder is adamant about his guilt, fueled by the passion of his love for Vesta Miller, the young woman both he and Spiegle so desperately wanted to marry.

No sooner does the sheriff start his investigation than he learns of two more murders in the Pinecraft community, and a startling connection is made. There’s no way around it—Professor Mike Branden will have to put his research trip on hold and, along with detective Ricky Niell, travel south to investigate. There they discover the disturbing truth about Spiegle’s conversion to the Amish faith and the reason for the long-smoldering hatred that has reached into the secluded pastoral valleys of Holmes County.

My thoughts: There is something very intriguing to me about the Amish people but when I hear the word Amish, I do not automatically think of the word murder. I guess  human nature being what it is, it happens. I have mixed feelings about this book. There were a few things I liked and there were some things I didn't like.

What didn't work for me:

Having three different investigators looking into the mystery. None of them seemed really fleshed out and the sheriff in particular came across as totally inept. The most we see of him, outside of the initial arrest, is his frustration with computers. Pastor Troyer was never really explained. I didn't know if he was Amish or not although the fact that he drove a truck made me think he wasn't.

Bishop Shetler gave me the impression he thought he was better than most men in his district or at least more righteous.  I could not warm up to this character at all nor did I get any feel of genuineness about him. He was very repetitive; the quote that includes the book title must have been used three or four times at least.

Part of the ending felt superfluous. I kind of wondered why the author bothered beyond letting the reader know what happened to Billy who almost felt like just an extra character for the sake of having more characters in the plot.

What worked for me:

Showing the power of the bishop to make decisions for the whole community and the philosophy of pacifism, forgiveness and remorse gave me interesting new insights into the Amish of today. The realism of the modern world intruding into the Amish way of life was aptly shown in several instances.

"To the bishop, Cal said, "I guess Darba has called a few people," and the bishop replied,  It's the cell phones, Cal," and walked off toward the Spiegle farm across the road, muttering under his breath about the relentless intrusions into his life from the modern world of gadgets. As if gadgers weren't enough, now murder"

The main characters, Vesta and Crist, seemed real to me and I empathized with their plight and their feelings. Crist's lawyer was the sharpest knife in the drawer as far as I was concerned. I would have liked to have seen more characters like this.

 Having Pinecraft, a real Amish community in Sarasota, Florida, as the setting for two additional murders that tie into Spiegle's murder. Including this connection and setting in the mystery was very interesting. I've seen photos of the Amish on those big tricycles and could picture the places mentioned in the book.

The frantic boat chase trying to capture a suspect at the end of the book gave it some excitement, an element I would expect in any mystery.

This is the first book I've read by P.L Gaus and I think I may have missed something by not reading the others. Harmless as Doves mentions events that probably happened in another book but did not fill in any other info.  It just seemed to be unnecessary for this story; felt like filler to me so I'm not sure if this is usual for the author or not. 3***

An excerpt from the author's next book, The Names of our Tears, is included at the end.

About the author (from Goodreads)
Paul L. Gaus was born in Athens, Ohio, in 1949, and he has lived in Ohio for most of his life. He has lived in Wooster, Ohio, for the past 33 years with his wife Madonna. Paul’s extensive knowledge of the culture and lifestyle of the Ohio Amish comes from over thirty years of travel throughout Holmes and surrounding counties in Ohio, where the world’s largest Amish and Mennonite population sprawls out over the countryside near Millersburg, Wooster, and Sugarcreek. 
Paul took an interest in writing fiction in 1993, and with the advice and encouragement of author Tony Hillerman, he began writing mystery novels set among the Amish in Holmes County, Ohio.

website :
Disclosure: A review copy of the book was provided by Plume in exchange for my honest opinion.


  1. Thank you for posting this book. I had heard of this one before.I really appreciate that you gave both negative and postive criticism.


  2. Excellent and even review as always, Kaye!

  3. I really respect the Amish but have heard there is an underside to their world. I'll probably skip this book.

  4. I can see that this one would probably not really work for me, based on your description of the characters and the repetition. Repetition makes me insane when I am reading a book, and it makes me feel like the author doesn't respect the reader enough to give them the message once and have them understand it. Thanks for the very honest review today. This is one that I plan on avoiding.

  5. Can't say I knew there were Amish in and learn.

  6. It seems Amish fiction is all over the place now, but I can't seem to bring myself to pick one up. Not sure this will be one that gets me to break that habit.

  7. I always love your insightful reviews. The Bishop is such a powerful person!! I once had an Amish man proposition me for sex (gasp!) as he drove by me on his buggy. I went back and told my boss (I worked for the local veterinarian at the time) who then told someone else and it eventually got back to the head Amish man. Imagine my dismay when he showed up at the office and wanted to know what the Amish man said to me!! I asked my boss if they stoned people!! LOL! Plus, I was mortified to say the word "sex" to the older man so I made my boss tell him!!!


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