REVIEW: Assaulted Pretzel

Assaulted Pretzel by Laura Bradford
Berkley Prime Crime (288 pages)
March 5, 2013

Rating:  8 (Good!)

For fans of:  Paige Shelton

Claire Weatherly loves the life she’s carved out for herself in the small town of Heavenly, Pennsylvania. She loves living in Sleep Heavenly, the bed-and-breakfast owned by her Aunt Diane. She loves running her own gift shop, Heavenly Treasures, and selling local products to the tourists who pass through. And she loves how much quieter and simpler life is in Heavenly, thanks in no small part to the presence of the Amish families who also call the town their home.

But that quiet simplicity is shattered when toy manufacturer Rob Karble is murdered during a visit to Heavenly. Rumor has it that Karble came to town under the pretense of forging a partnership with local Amish toymakers, but backed out of the deal after procuring copies of the toymakers’ designs. Did Karble’s backroom dealings get him killed – or is there more going on in sleepy little Heavenly than meets the eye?

Assaulted Pretzel is the second in Laura Bradford’s Amish Mystery series, and it’s a wonderfully engaging read. The book has a strong sense of place; Heavenly comes to life on the page by virtue of Bradford’s vibrant prose, and in Sleep Heavenly, she’s created one of the warmest, coziest, most inviting retreats a reader could ever hope to visit (in person or via fiction). The story is cleverly plotted and quickly paced, and the mystery is remarkably well constructed, with a nice collection of plausible suspects and a host of expertly deployed clues. 

Bradford does a fantastic job of introducing the reader to what’s essentially a foreign culture.  The rules by which the Amish live are complex and are vastly different than those followed by their “English” counterparts, but Bradford not only manages to explain them without employing a single info dump, but uses them to enrich and complicate her tale, as well.  The interpersonal relationships alone are enough to make your head spin, and Bradford deserves a ton of credit for choosing such a unique and fertile theme for her series.

Bradford’s character development skills are strong. Claire’s occasionally a little too earnest for my taste, but when she’s not busy channeling Pollyanna she makes for a strong and determined heroine. Good friend and potential love interest Jakob is a skilled and dedicated detective, and is made all the more interesting by the fact that he decided to leave Heavenly to become a cop after he was baptized into the Amish faith – an act that earn him ostracization by his family and his community. And the love triangle that’s developing between Claire, Jakob, and Jakob’s still-Amish childhood rival Benjamin is positively riveting. To call the situation complicated would be a gross understatement, and the relationships forming between the three of them alone are reason enough for me to seek out the next installment of Laura Bradford’s Amish Mysteries.