Blood of the Prodigal

A ten-year-old boy disappears from the home of an Amish bishop, who had shunned the boy’s father ten years ago. When the father is found murdered, Sheriff Bruce Robertson takes up the investigation, only to discover truths that the Bishop would prefer to leave undisturbed.

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From the tranquil farmlands of Holmes County’s Amish countryside to the choppy waters off Lake Erie’s Middle Bass Island, mystery and foreboding lurk under layers of tradition and repression before boiling to the surface with tragic consequences.

Set authentically among the Old Order Amish of Holmes County, Ohio – home to the largest Amish and Mennonite settlements in the world – Blood of the Prodigal offers readers a growing understanding of Amish ways.

For Jonah Miller, shunned by his Old Order sect and cast into the wider world, the summer begins with his decision to kidnap his ten-year-old son from the home of the bishop who had exiled Miller a decade earlier.  In his desperation to retrieve the boy, the bishop appeals for help to the only “English” men the sect would ever approve.

Professor Michael Branden and Pastor Caleb Troyer had been looking forward to the kind of sleepy rural summer they had enjoyed as boyhood friends growing up in the small college town of Millersburg.  Instead, they plunge into the normally closed Amish culture to find the boy.  When the kidnapping leads to murder, they can no longer keep the case from the law.  Working sometimes at cross purposes with his friend Sheriff Bruce Robertson, Professor Branden digs through the past to uncover truths that many would prefer to leave undisturbed.  Little does he suspect that even the anguished bishop, torn by an insoluble moral dilemma, tragically does not tell everything he knows about the case.  Suddenly the vast tangle of Amish and Mennonite settlements that sprawl among several thousand small farms and homesteads seems less bucolic than unknowable and impenetrable.

As they inquire delicately among the peaceful ones, Branden and Troyer learn that the troubles of Jonah Miller began far earlier than the kidnapping, with his Rumschpringe – the customary wild year before taking Amish vows.  But his grand Rumschpringe had exploded into a decade of drugs, whiskey, and women, in the company of people no Amish person should meet.

In the tradition of Tony Hillerman, P. L. Gaus depicts a culture that successfully stands outside the mainstream yet interacts with it in complex and fascinating ways, a culture that is every bit as susceptible to the undertow of the human spirit as any we might know.

Excerpts from Reviews of Blood of the Prodigal

Tony Hillerman
No one who enjoys a fresh approach to the mystery novel, plus an insider’s look at Ohio’s Old Order Amish culture, should miss Blood of the Prodigal.  P. L. Gaus gives us an kind, gentle and intriguing look inside Ohio’s famous Amish colony.”

Patricia Westfall
In Blood of the Prodigal, Gaus gives us a satisfying puzzle and an intriguing glimpse into the paradoxes of Amish culture – so foreign and familiar, so gentle and stern, so simple in ways but complex in values.”

Gaus writes with authority and warmth about the mysterious Amish.  This well-written, insightful first novel bodes well for Gaus’ planned series.”

Library Journal
Precise, detailed descriptions of Amish practices and full-bodied, unhurried, well-measured prose.  A pleasure to read.”

School Library Journal
This thoughtful book contrasts the Old Order Amish way of life with that of modern America, and provides a refreshing look at a cast of small-town people who do their jobs capably as a matter of course and make their own moral choices.”

Publisher’s Weekly
Gaus brings a refreshing authenticity to his unusual setting and characters.  There are no wise-cracking gumshoes here, but instead believable characters whose faith is explored with respect . . . [A] fine mystery debut.”

Kirkus Reviews
The charm of Gaus’s first novel lies in its gently penetrating portrait of conflicts within the deceptively quiet contemporary Amish community.

ForeWard Magazine
Enthusiasts of mysteries, American sub-cultures, or those interested in learning more about Amish ways will find much to glean from Gaus’ work.”

The Columbus Dispatch
Gaus provides thought-provoking insights into the Amish culture, pointing out that in Bishop Miller’s district, as in all Old Order Amish communities, simplicity and conformity are ironclad requirements.”


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about the author

P.L. Gaus

Paul has lived in Wooster, Ohio, with his wife Madonna since 1977. His extensive knowledge of the culture and lifestyle of the Ohio Amish comes from over forty 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's novels have been reviewed in prominent journals and newspapers, for instance, Kirkus Reviews, ForeWord Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, Ohioana Quarterly, and the New York Times Book Review.