Although she left her Old Order Amish ways in her youth, Rachel discovered corporate life in the English world to be complicated and unfulfilling. Having returned to Stone Mill, she’s happy to be running her own B&B. But she’s also learning—in more ways than one—that the past is not always so easily left behind.
After local newspaperman Bill Billingsly is found gagged and tied to his front porch, left to freeze overnight in a snowstorm, Detective Evan Parks—Rachel’s beau—uncovers a file of scandalous information Billingsly intended to publish, including a record of Rachel pleading no contest to charges of corporate misconduct. Though Evan is certain of her innocence, it’s up to Rachel to find the real killer. A closer examination of the victim’s unpublished report leads Rachel to believe the Amish community is far from sinless. But if she’s not careful her obituary might be the next to appear in print…
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By EMMA MILLER
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Emma Miller
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Stone Mill, Pennsylvania January
Rachel Mast slid out of the front seat of her Jeep as her fiancé opened the door, and surveyed the crowded high school parking lot with a sigh of relief. This was the opening day of Stone Mill's long anticipated Winter Frolic, and dozens of eager, smiling people, many in Plain dress, were making their way inside. A line of horses and black buggies stood along the side of the building while motor vehicles, some with out-ofstate plates, filled more than two-thirds of the parking spaces while others waited bumper to bumper in the street, turn signals flashing.
"Careful. Watch your step," Evan cautioned. "The snowplows did a pretty good job of cleaning up after the last snow, but it's still slippery in spots."
"I can't believe it! People came out for the frolic." Rachel could hardly contain her excitement. "I hoped they would, but with the storm coming in, I was afraid they might not."
"I'll admit I never expected to see this many visitors." Evan grinned down at her. "I should have had more faith in you, Rache."
"It was a long shot," she admitted. "Most towns only hold festivals in the summer for a reason."
Hosting a big festival had been a risky proposition for the town, and much of her reputation rested on the outcome. Like so many rural communities, Stone Mill desperately needed any kind of financial boost it could get after years of national economic downturn. Rachel had been born here, which should have made her trustworthy. But she'd left her Amish upbringing and stayed away for fifteen years, going to college, then joining the corporate business world, which thinned the ties and made her suspect. Stone Mill was an isolated mountain community that held to old ways, familiar faces, and tried-and-true solutions.
Even after some of her previous successes, like the fair they held in the town square on Saturdays in the summer months, it had taken a lot of persuasion to convince the valley residents and business owners that hosting a weeklong craft show and celebration midwinter could be a success. Had the project flopped, she'd have had a difficult time getting people to listen to her next harebrained idea. Luckily, it didn't look to be a flop.
January was usually a slow season for her B&B, but Stone Mill House was booked all week with every room filled. The previous night, she'd seen that Wagler's Grocery, The George, Junior's Diner, and Russell's Hardware and Emporium were all crowded with out-of-towners. So, despite minor glitches in the festivities, the below-normal temperatures, and the threat of a snowstorm, the festival seemed headed in the right direction.
"Rachel! Evan!" A young woman dressed all in black, with both one eyebrow and one nostril pierced, shifted a box of books to one hip and waved. "Wait until you see our table! It looks awesome!"
Rachel waved back. "Is George here?" Ell owned the town's bookstore, but it had once belonged to her Uncle George.
"Are you kidding? I couldn't keep him away," Ell called back.
"Need help with that box?" Evan asked.
"Got it!" Ell shifted the weight to both arms again. "Rachel, don't forget that you promised to help with story time for the kids. I need you at noon for an hour-long shift."
"I'll be there." Rachel returned her attention to Evan. "Be sure to keep an eye on Mary Aaron's strawberry jam, right? Because her mother insisted they were short one jar after the Christmas bazaar."
Evan was wearing his state police winter uniform, which made him appear taller, broader of shoulder, and even more imposing than normal. He'd recently been promoted to detective but had volunteered to serve as security for the Winter Frolic's biggest day, free of charge. Rachel didn't really think that security was needed to guard the tables of whoopie pies and hand-crocheted hot mitts, but she'd learned by trial and error that city folks, visiting for the day, felt more at ease with a tall trooper keeping an eye on things.
"Just doing my civic duty," he replied with a wink. "Serve and protect."
She laughed and gave his arm a squeeze. For two years Evan had pursued her, and she'd finally agreed to marry him when he'd proposed again on New Year's Day. Somehow, making that decision had changed things between them. In a good way. "Would you mind giving a hand with traffic control, first?" she asked sweetly. "Before you start guarding the jam?"
As if on cue, brakes squealed and a car horn sounded from the street. "I'm on it," he said. "See you later?"
"Absolutely," she agreed. "I hope you brought a change of clothes. You promised me a sleigh ride, and I'm not letting you out of it. I'll get tickets."
It hadn't taken much arm-twisting to get her father to agree to let her brother Moses polish up the two-horse sleigh and deck the team with bells so that he could offer old-fashioned Amish sleigh rides during the festival. As she'd suspected, there'd been so much interest that Moses and his wife, Ruth, were taking reservations, and they were attempting to locate a second sleigh and driver.
"Late lunch first and then the sleigh ride," Evan bargained. "You know how I feel about horses." He squeezed her gloved hand. "You're wearing it, aren't you?"
She laughed. "Of course I'm wearing it." When she'd finally accepted Evan's marriage proposal, he'd slipped an antique diamond ring on her finger. "I haven't had it off since you gave it to me."
"Good. This will be a chance to show it to everybody and let the whole town know you're taken."
Inwardly, Rachel grimaced. Had she had her way, there wouldn't have been an engagement ring. The Amish didn't believe in jewelry, not even wedding rings. And while she was no longer Amish, she knew her family, especially her parents, wouldn't approve. Rings were considered worldly, and the Amish were a people set apart from the English world. Although she'd left the faith when she was seventeen, some steps were still hard for her. If she'd had her druthers, she would have settled for a simple wedding band and skipped the diamond altogether, but Evan didn't understand. He'd been so pleased with himself that she didn't have the heart to refuse to wear the engagement ring. And it was beautiful, and she loved him for being him. She sighed. Maybe the English world had changed her more than she wanted to admit. But not enough that she felt comfortable flaunting an expensive diamond in front of her Plain friends and neighbors.
As Rachel trudged across the parking lot to the sidewalk, she heard her name being called. She looked up to see an Amish couple standing halfway between the entrance to the school gym and the buggy parking. Since almost all of the Amish women dressed similarly in black dress bonnets, capes, and coats, it was often difficult to tell them apart from a distance, but there was no mistaking Naamah, with her husband, Bishop Abner. He was small and thin; she outweighed him by at least fifty pounds and stood a head taller. The smiling bishop made his way along the sidewalks, weighed down with split-oak baskets of canned goods, presumably to sell at the Plain Pickle and Jam stand her parents' Amish church community was sponsoring.
"Rachel!" Naamah called excitedly. "So many Englishers coming to our frolic. Wunderbaar."
Naamah gave a quick hug to a small Amish woman going in the opposite direction, then hurried toward Rachel, her husband trailing three steps behind.
Swooping down on Rachel, Naamah enveloped her in an enthusiastic bear hug, and Rachel was instantly engulfed in the familiar scents of her childhood — damp wool, starch, and dried lavender. "So happy we are that the snow doesn't drive away our visitors," Naamah bubbled. She had a merry voice and eyes that shone with the joy of life. "Lots of people here, it looks."
"Yes," Rachel agreed. "I was afraid the weather would keep tourists away. The road over the mountain into the valley can get slippery, but they must be braver than I thought." She glanced back toward the woman Naamah had embraced. The smaller figure had turned back toward the buggies. "Was that Annie Herschberger?"
"Ya, poor Annie," the bishop confirmed. "A difficult time for her and her family."
Annie was a sister-in-law to Alvin and Verna Herschberger, the young couple who made the delicious goat cheeses that Rachel sold in her gift shop. She was also a friend of Rachel's Aunt Hannah, but Rachel didn't know her well.
She watched as Annie walked to one of the buggies and climbed inside.
"Is she leaving already?" Rachel asked.
"Just going back to fetch a pumpkin cake for the bake sale," Naamah said. "She thought either my husband, Joab, or our Sammy had carried it into the school with her raisin bread and krum kuchen, but they can't find the cake."
"I wondered where Sammy was," Rachel remarked. A few months ago, Naamah's eighteen-year-old nephew Sammy Zook had come to stay with them. He was a big boy, strong and good-natured, but slow in mind and body. Naamah said that Sammy was full of fanciful tales and couldn't be trusted to give a straight answer if his life depended on it, but as far as Rachel could see, his presence was a great help around the farm to Naamah and Abner. Childless, the two had to perform alone the many tasks living simply demanded, such as chopping wood, building fences, milking and caring for the animals. It seemed a good solution for all three of them as the bishop was growing no younger and Sammy was obviously thriving under his aunt and uncle's loving care.
"Ach, Rachel." Naamah shook her head sadly. "Poor Annie said she didn't want to come today, to maybe have people staring at them and whispering behind their back, but Abner insisted they shouldn't hide. If there was fault, it was Joab's, not hers. She has no reason to feel shame, and gossip soon grows cold when idle minds turn to new mischief."
"I agree wholeheartedly," Rachel said.
The bishop turned to Rachel and asked, in a low voice, "Did you have a chance to talk to Bill Billingsly yet?"
She shook her head. "He's been out of the office all week, supposedly. I've called three times and I've left messages. I think he's hiding because he's afraid of me."
"I'm opposed to violence, of course, but it might be that he should be afraid of me as well." Bishop Abner stroked his long beard. "I've been praying hard on the matter. Trying to temper my anger. I just can't imagine why that newspaperman would want to hurt good people like Annie and Joab."
"Ya, they are both good people," Rachel agreed. "And we need their contributions to the community. Mary Aaron said they were talking about selling the dairy farm and moving out to Wisconsin."
"What a terrible loss that would be." The bishop frowned for a moment but then turned back to her, forcing a smile. "Enough talk of the newspaperman. He's not worth our time to fret over. Congratulations on such a fine turnout. Clever, this idea of yours, Rachel. To bring tourists to our town in the cold of winter." He looked at his wife with obvious affection. "But then, not even Englishers can resist my Naamah's rhubarb jam."
"If any jars are left over next weekend, just drop them by the inn," Rachel said. "You know what a big seller they are in the gift shop. I sold seventeen jars of Naamah's chowchow in December."
"Maybe I should give up raising sheep and learn to make chowchow," he replied. "I would, if I could talk my good wife into giving up her secret recipes."
"No, because if I tell you, you'll hand them out to anyone who asks," Naamah retorted. "I know you. You're a pushover." She laughed again, her round cheeks and the tip of her snub of a nose glowing as red in the icy air as a pickled egg.
"How can I help it?" he teased. "Doesn't the good book tell us to be kind to our neighbors?"
"Ya, but it says nothing about giving away my grandmother's recipe for tomato mincemeat or chowchow." Naamah's brown eyes sparkled with good humor beneath the rim of her black dress bonnet. "At the last school fair, I took six jars and Mathiah's Gertie and her sister Agnes brought a dozen exactly the same. They offered theirs cheaper and sold out before me."
Bishop Abner's scraggly reddish-gray beard bobbed up and down as he chuckled again. "And all for the same good cause." He shifted the heavy baskets and rested one in the snow. "Money for the schoolhouse addition, so what was the harm?"
"None, I suppose," Naamah allowed. "But my gross-mama would not approve."
"Let's get inside before we all freeze," Rachel suggested. "Those baskets must weigh a ton."
"I told him I could carry some," Naamah fussed, "but he wouldn't hear of it. If the bishop had his way, I'd be spoiled rotten."
"And who should I do it for if not my own wife?" He scooped up the basket of pickles and jam and followed Naamah toward the entrance to the school gymnasium.
Rachel trailed after them, thinking what a positive force Abner Chupp was for the community. He was bishop for her family's church and as dear to Rachel as his wife was. He might be diminutive in stature, but he loomed large in the valley both as an example of how an Amish man should live and as a kind and wise religious elder.
Some, even members of her own family, might openly show their disapproval of her choice to leave the faith and become part of the English world, but Bishop Abner never had. All he'd ever offered was friendship, understanding, and an open invitation to return to the Amish way of life. As for Naamah, Rachel adored her. Despite the good-humored bickering that went on between her and her husband, Rachel knew that the two were devoted to each other and never really disagreed.
Rachel paused to greet a few other acquaintances and then stepped through the double doors into the gym. Although she'd been there early that morning, she was amazed by how fantastic the place looked with the addition of big glittery white snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, and twinkle lights looped in all the doorways and overhead. Booths offering everything from hand-woven willow baskets to baked goods, wooden toys, antiques, hand-stitched quilts, and forged iron trivets and fire irons lined the walls. Ell's bookstore, The George, filled two spaces with books for sale, with a third serving hot tea and scones in a reading area and a fourth, carpeted with rugs, designated as a children's story area. There was a double booth offering reproduction colonial- and mission-style furniture and a Mennonite couple's display of one-of-a-kind lighting fixtures.
Rachel spied her friend Coyote's pottery stall and walked over to see how things were going for her. Coyote was the local potter, a talented artist who had transplanted her family from California. Coyote and her husband, Blade, were just the kind of entrepreneurs Rachel hoped to draw to Stone Mill. Rachel didn't see Coyote, but Blade, a rough-featured man with a long ponytail, a scraggly beard, and full sleeves of tattoos, was behind the counter, the newest addition to their family tied to his chest with a colorful baby sling. A small boy in a wheelchair sat beside him, scrolling through an iPad.
Blade glanced up, saw her coming toward him, and grinned. "Rachel. Coyote was looking for you earlier, but she just ran out to the car. This one" — he glanced meaningfully down at the sleeping infant — "just had a major explosion, and I left the diaper bag in the van."
"I'll be around for a while, so I'll catch up with her. Hi, Remi," Rachel said to the small boy. He had a round face; silky black hair cut straight across his forehead; large, dark, intelligent eyes; and skin the exact shade of English toffee. "Are you reading anything good today?"
"The Giving Tree, but I read it before. I know how it ends." Remi had an endearing lisp.
"I imagine Ell has some wonderful books over there. Maybe we can find you something you haven't read yet."
"Just what his mama said," Blade agreed. "Although it's hard to keep him in books. He's reading everything he can get his hands on."
Rachel suspected that Remi's IQ, as yet to be formally tested, would surprise even his parents. Not old enough to attend kindergarten yet, Remi had already been reading chapter books for more than a year. "At least you'll never be bored."
Intense pewter-gray eyes lit with pleasure. "Coyote says that, too. Whatever may happen, our kids are our treasure."
Excerpted from Plain Dead by EMMA MILLER. Copyright © 2016 Emma Miller. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.5 Stars! This is the first book I have read in the "Amish Mystery" series but it will not be the last. I had no problem with following the story or the characters even though it is the third book in the series. Rachel Mast, is a character that lives between two worlds. Born and raised Amish, she left home at seventeen to go to university and then went to live in the big city and work for Corporate America. When that did not pan out, she returned home, but not to the Amish home, she lives as an Englisher and runs a Bed & Breakfast as well as a gift shop. She is the chairperson of the "Winter Frolic" a festival to highlight the town and well as the Amish people. The only bee in her bonnet at this time is Bill Billingsly, a nosy, interfering, newspaperman with lots of gossipy research. Then he is discovered, dead of exposure, frozen to death on his front porch. With all the people he has upset and alienated, there are many suspects and Rachel is one of them. She must find out who the real culprit it to clear her name. This story is filled with mystery, suspense, and romance. Rachel's character is strong, loyal, smart, stubborn, persistant and doing an amazing job of balancing her old and new worlds. She is so caring of the Amish world and its traditions that they let her in, even though she has left the "Plain World" to live as an Englisher. The mystery in this story is well plotted and will keep you guessing as to who is the guilty party. I changed my mind on who it was a few times and I love when I think I have it all figured out only to be thrown in a different direction by the author. I did figure it out just before the reveal, and that made the story even more interesting for me. Definitely an author I will follow, especially as I learn more about the Amish life.
There is nothing plain about PLAIN DEAD! This is my first book in the Amish Mysteries by author Emma Miller, but I will be going back and reading the first two installments, PLAIN MURDER, and PLAIN KILLING. Author Miller has penned an amazing story in PLAIN DEAD. I was hooked from page one, and the story just kept getting better. I instantly liked protagonist Racheal Mast and her fiancée Detective Evan Parks. They make a wonderful couple to read about, and I loved the interactions between them. PLAIN DEAD was an intriguing mystery with plot twists that really kept me guessing. The murder was pretty unique for a cozy-traditional mystery. Not your normal stabbing or poison. And the killer? Wow! That’s all I’m saying other than, I didn’t see that one coming! This book will be a sure hit with mystery fans, and readers of Amish fiction. Reads from teens to seniors will all enjoy PLAIN DEAD. A fun bonus for me…author EMMA MILLER lives in Kent County Delaware just like I do!
My apologies to authors of Amish books, there are definitely good books out there. I really don't mean that this is a bad book, it is very predictable. I don't think that there is much left to be said in a book about the Amish. Living, as we do, about 15 miles from the largest Amish settlement in Illinois, maybe I have just become too close to the subject. FTC Full Disclosure - A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review.
Plain Dead by Emma Miller is the third book in the An Amish Mystery series. Rachel Mast owns and runs the Stone Mill Bed and Breakfast. Rachel was raised in the Amish faith, but she decided not to be baptized into the faith. She tried the corporate life, but Rachel found it unsatisfactory. Rachel is happy to have returned to Stone Mill, Pennsylvania. She is currently dating Evan Parks who is a detective with the state police. The one thorn in Rachel’s side is Bill Billingsley. He is the local newspaperman who has started a nasty gossip column (he is printing people’s secrets). Bill has also been taking pictures of the local Amish against their will (you should always get permission first). Rachel has a secret that she does not want anyone to find out (she has not told her family or Evan). Rachel decided to confront Bill late one night and even got as far as his house. Rachel changed her mind and went home. The next morning Bill is found tied to his front porch and frozen to death. Unfortunately for Rachel, she is the number one suspect. Rachel will have to investigate to clear her name and prove to Evan that she is not guilty. It turns out that plenty of people in the area have secrets that they wish to keep hidden. Will Rachel be able to find the killer before she ends up in jail or becomes the next victim? Rachel also has her hands full organizing the Winter Frolic and deciding whether or not to wear Evan’s engagement ring (he proposed at the end of the last book). Plain Dead is well-written and easy to read. The mystery was interesting (best part of the book). I just wish the writer had provided more clues. We keep getting told different information, but none of it helps the reader to find the killer (just one clue right before the killer is revealed). I did find Rachel a wee bit frustrating. Rachel left the Amish way of life, but she still caters to her family (by dressing the way they expect when she goes visiting for example). The one thing that had my blood boiling was the comments from an Amish man about a woman’s place. I would hope that in this day and age no one would actually expect a woman to stay home, cook, clean, and raise children (evidently the Amish do though). If that is what a woman choses to do, that is fine. But it should not be a given (sorry for the rant). Plain Dead is a good book, but it was not my favorite in the series. I give Plain Dead 4 out of 5 stars. While Plain Dead is a part of a series, it can be read alone. The author does a good job at updating the reader. I received a complimentary copy of Plain Dead from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
4 STARS This is the third book in this series but first of it that I have read. It has lots of drama, mystery, that has interesting characters, good suspects that kept me guessing. It is a clean read too. . The main character is Rachel Mast who chose not to join the Amish faith and left to become living English in big city. Now Rachel has returned home to Stone Mill to run a bed & breakfast. She lives a mix of English and Amish. Rachel is now engaged to Detective Evan Parks, but has not told her family. The newspaper reporter Billingsly is printing gossip and causing trouble with English and Amish people too. Lots of people are angry with him. The day of the murder Rachel had a loud fight with him at the Winter Frolic. Evan gets the murder case. One of the suspects his Rachel which causes problems with the couple. Rachel thinks someone in the Amish is guilty or knows something. She decides to help clear her. One suspect is one of Rachel's guest. One is a local artist and husband of a friend who is keeping secrets. The setting is Stone Mill, Pennsylvania Amish community. It is the Winter Folic. A week long craft sales to bring visitors to town in winter. I would love to read the first two books in the series. I was given this ebook to read by Netgalley, & Kensington. In return I agreed to give a honest review.
This is a great book; this is the third book in the An Amish Mystery series by Emma Miller. This book can be read as a standalone, but once you read this one you will want to go back and read the others in this series. Rachel left her Amish ways in her youth, and has discovered corporate life in the English world. She has now returned to stone Mill to run her own B&B. When a local newspaperman Bill Billingsly is found gagged and tied to his front porch, Rachel’s beau Even Parks uncovers a file of scandalous information including a record of Rachel pleading no contest to charges of corporate misconduct. Rachel is determined to find what has really happened in the small Amish community. If you are looking for a great mystery, then you need to read this book. I am looking forward to reading the next book in this great series! A Review copy was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. The free book held no determination on my personal review.
This is the first book I have read by this particular author. I have read several different Amish cozy mysteries and this one was quite good. For me, I really enjoyed the concept of this story. In most Amish cozies, the protagonist is either full Amish or an Englisher. Rachel Mast is neither, while she holds strong to her Amish roots, her time as an Englisher is important to her as well. This story is set in January and the town is getting ready for their Winter Frolic. Rachel has worked hard to bring new growth to the small community of Stone Mill, PA, and she is pleased with the turnout. Her Bed and Breakfast is booked for the festivities and her personal life with Evan seems to be moving along at a comfortable speed. The Winter Frolic would be a huge hit if only nasty newspaperman Bill Billingsly would keep his gossip to himself. It seems that the nasty reporter loves digging up the dirt on his fellow neighbors and he doesn't know when to stop. It seems his gossip has made someone hate him enough to do the unthinkable and when his body is discovered it seems Rachel has made the suspect list. This story is very well written and I found it easy to lose myself in the quaint little town of Stone Mill. .I will be sure to recommend this book and author to my friends. I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my fair and honest review.