Murder, Plain and Simple by Isabella Alan is the debut cozy mystery of the Amish Quilt Shop series, set in Ohio and featuring shop owner Angie Braddock (available September 3, 2013).
Angela “Angie” Braddock’s Aunt Eleanor fell in love with an Amish man, and when they married, she converted to the Amish lifestyle. Angie used to visit them during her summer breaks and loved spending time with her aunt and uncle, but as she got older, the visits were less frequent and finally stopped altogether.
When Aunt Eleanor passed away, Angie is stunned to find out the quilt shop has been left to her. What's she going to do with a quilt shop in Amish country, Ohio when she's a busy, working woman in Dallas, Texas? Everyone assumed Angie would sell the shop, but when her fiancé Ryan suddenly calls off the wedding right before the invitations were to go out, she surprises everyone, quits her job, and moves to Ohio to run the quilt shop.
Angie returns to the town she fondly remembers from her childhood and rents a house near downtown Rolling Brook for herself and Oliver, her black and white French bulldog. Most folks are kind and welcome her to the neighborhood. She’s instant friends with Rachel, whose family owns the bakery across the street, and Rachel is happy to feed Angie’s penchant for baked goods. However, some of the Amish are a bit upset that an Englischer owns a store in the Amish community.
While settling in and unpacking, Angie is avoiding calls from her mother, who is less than thrilled with her daughter’s decision to leave Dallas. Her mom is convinced that Angie can patch things up with Ryan and get him to still marry her. Angie tries to explain she doesn’t want to marry Ryan, but her mother won’t hear of it.
Angie holds a big re-opening for the shop with the help of Martha, her Aunt’s long-time employee, and the ladies of her Aunt’s quilting circle. Everything is going well until her business's neighbor comes into the shop. The man just pushes her buttons.
Joseph Walker glared at me.
“I’m glad you came to the reopening.” I flashed him the pageant smile again. It worked as well as it had the first time.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
I blinked. “Excuse me?”
“I would like to know your plans for this shop.”
I felt myself bristle. “What do you mean?”
“Do you plan to stay here? To run this shop?” His voice was stern.
“Yes,” I said. “That’s what I moved here to do.”
“That’s what I was afraid of. You have no business running this shop. Rolling Brook is an Amish town. You should leave it to the Amish. The Englischer was right. What does a girl from Texas know about the Amish?”
My face grew warm. “I’m sorry you feel that way.” I said, using the same uncompromising tone he’d used with me. “But I inherited this shop. Whether you like it or not, I’m here to stay.”
“Why am I not surprised? You’re proud, just like Eleanor was. She never knew her place either.”
Angie comes back to the shop the morning after the re-opening, only to find the dead body of an Amish man in her store room. Worse, it’s the very Amish man she’d been seen arguing with the day before about the ownership of her aunt’s shop. Joseph Walker claimed he owned it, and no one can find a deed to prove that Angie’s aunt owned the property, and in turn, legally left it to her.
Enter the very handsome Sheriff Mitchell. Angie notices his beautiful eyes and his finger with no wedding ring. However, Angie’s a murder suspect, possibly the prime suspect, and at times the sheriff seems amused over it.
Mitchell reached into the breast pocket of his uniform and removed a white business card. “You think of anything else, you call me anytime.”
Without examining it, I stuffed it into my purse.
He seemed to recognize the defiance in my expression and smiled. “Against my better judgment, you’re free for now, even if you are a prime flight risk.”
“You have no friends or family here. There’s nothing keeping you here.”
I straightened my spine. “I do have friends in Holmes County. You don’t know anything about me.”
“I will soon enough.”
“I’m not a flight risk,” I muttered.
“Prove it. Don’t leave town.”
I glared at him.
The quilt store is a crime scene and closed until further notice. Angie decides that before she gets measured for an orange jumpsuit, she needs to clear her name, which means she needs to find the killer.
Local young reporter Danny Nicolson smells the story of his life and convinces Angie they should join forces. Although it seems he wants Angie to share all of her information, while he gives away as little as possible.
There’s an abundance of suspects who may have wanted Joseph Walker out of the way. His former boss lost half of his business when Walker opened up his own woodworking shop. Walker was responsible for sending his own brother-in-law to prison for arson, and Elijah Knepp is now out of prison and out for revenge.
Undeterred by personal threats, Angie continues to investigate to clear her name. It isn’t until her main suspect makes a veiled threat against her dog that Angie finally realizes she may be in over her head. She nails Oliver’s dog door shut so he cannot go out alone and doesn’t want to leave him unprotected. What kind of person threatens to hurt a defenseless dog? Someone who has no issues with murdering a human being. But even so, who'd think a Watermelon Festival could be so dangerous?
The Amish culture is very interesting and unique. The author has brought a lot of this into her book and you can get a glimpse of it throughout the story. The characters are entertaining and fun, people you would like to come across in your own life (well, except for the killer maybe) and I enjoyed sharing some time with them.
(Isabella Alan also writes under the name of Amanda Flower, and you can read her Appleseed Creek mystery series, India Hayes mystery series, and an upcoming new YA mystery featuring Andi Boggs, Andi Unexpected.)
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Kim M. Hammond is an avid mystery reader and aspiring writer who hails from Cleveland, Ohio. She also guest blogs at Mystery Playground.