Wednesday, December 23, 2020

REVIEW: A Perfect Square (book) by Vannetta Chapman

A Perfect Square is an Amish mystery. My copy is an ARC that I picked up at a conference years ago, so this has been out for quite some time. This is the second book in Chapman's Shipshewana Amish Mystery series.


A young Amish woman is found dead in a pond with the back of her head bloodied. Although it appears that she was a stranger to Shipshewana, there are indications that Reuben, the owner of the land where she died, knew her. Unfortunately, Reuben refuses to speak to the police, and Tobias (his cousin) and Esther (Tobias's fiancee) are worried that he'll be blamed for a murder they're sure he didn't commit.

Deborah (an Amish woman) and Callie (an Englischer - a non-Amish person) do what they can to help their friends, but with Reuben refusing to say anything in his own defense, their options are limited. Meanwhile, a young Amish man is hiding in the woods - he knew the dead girl, and he may be the key to this mystery.

I feel like my description makes more of Deborah and Callie's amateur sleuthiness than is really warranted - for the bulk of the book, they do very little investigating. Granted, Reuben gives them almost nothing to go on, but it made for an odd mystery. This actually worked better for me if I approached it as general Amish fiction rather than as a mystery.

I got an ARC of this book at a conference (and may have met the author, based on the autograph on the title page). Although I like cozy mysteries, I rarely read inspirational fiction and have never read Amish fiction before. The glossary at the beginning of the book was helpful, and Callie's "outsider" status (Deborah considered her to be as close as family, but she definitely wasn't Amish) gave Chapman plenty of opportunities to work explanations about Amish life and traditions into the text.

This is the second book in a series and I hadn't read the first, so that was a bit of a problem. There were lots of characters with very intertwined relationships, and it was hard for me to keep track of all of them. It didn't help that Chapman spent so little time focused on any one character that it was hard for me to get to know the cast. I learned basic information about several of them (and almost resorted to taking notes in order to keep it all straight - a character list would probably have been as useful as the glossary) but that was pretty much it. As a result, I didn't finish this with a desire to see more of any of the characters - I just wasn't that connected to any of them.

It's a shame, because several of these characters could have been very interesting. Deborah, a married Amish woman with several small children, seemed to be more inclined to amateur sleuthing than Callie, although she had to work it in around taking care of her family. Callie, meanwhile, was a widow (whose husband may have been a murder victim in the previous book? it was tough to tell) who was originally from Houston and somewhat surprised and pleased to find that Shipshewana was beginning to feel like a real home to her. She had not one, not two, but three potential love interests - unfortunately, it was handled in such a lukewarm way that I kept forgetting about the existence of one of the love interest possibilities, and it's probably a good thing that Chapman opted to pair one of those options up with Callie by the end of the book rather than keep the uncertainty going.

All in all, this was an okay read, but a fairly disappointing mystery. The revelation about what really happened to that girl made the bulk of the book feel like a waste of time - the side story about Ira Bontrager's missing daughter turned out to be much more interesting and satisfying, with more amateur sleuthing. I don't intend to read more of this series.

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