Thursday, 10 February 2011

Dark Harvest - Karen Harper

Policewoman Kat Lindley is running from the big-city job that nearly got her killed, and from memories of the abused boy she failed to save. She agrees to undertake a dangerous masquerade within the peaceful Amish community of Maplecreek, desperate to save its children.

Widower Luke Brand is a leader in the Amish community. But his people are under attack from unknown assailants. The community is reluctant to turn to the outside world—until a particularly vicious assault forces Luke to seek help.

Together Luke and Kat are determined to bring justice to the perpetrators, while struggling to suppress the unspoken and forbidden feelings growing between them. But when the case takes a deadly turn, Kat must race to uncover the menace that threatens the people she has grown to deeply respect—before Luke becomes the next victim.

After rehabilitating from a gunshot wound, policewoman Kat is keen to find a job away from the city, where crime will hopefully be at a minimum. Maplecreek, Ohio appears to be the perfect setting - after all, aren't the Amish pacifists? But soon she finds herself being talked into dressing Amish and posing as widower Luke's betrothed in order to gain evidence on hate crimes against the Plain people. Kat - now called Katie - quickly finds herself falling for Luke's adorable children, all the more convinced that she must stop the perpetrators. But as she finds herself drawing closer to the Sarah and Eli - and their father - the crimes increase, and Kat knows that she has to race to unravel the mystery before a member of her new family is the next victim...

This would be the perfect read for those who are interested in Amish fiction, but prefer books that aren't entirely focused on romance. So if you enjoyed Jodi Picoult's Plain Truth or any of Marta Perry's romantic suspenses, this may be be the book for you. Although I'm a true romantic at heart, I devoured the Famous Five mysteries and any Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on as a child, so naturally romantic suspense has an appeal to me. I wasn't sure what I'd make of Dark Harvest as it sounded rather sinister (my fiancé asked me if it was an "Amish horror book"!) but I ended up falling in love with the community of Maplecreek, Ohio.

If you're worried that this is merely a mystery planted in an Amish settlement to make it more original, fret no more. Not only has Karen Harper clearly done her research, but she also grew up in Ohio, close to Holmes Country. I may not be an expert on the Amish, but the detail Karen gives about the dress, food and farming in Maplecreek definitely has an authentic feel to it. Seeing the area through the eyes of outsider, Kat, certainly has a different impression than the descriptions in Amish novels featuring those who have grown up in the faith. Kat's reaction to the tall corn fields made the farm feel incredibly claustrophobic and emphasised how cut-off from the world the Amish truly are - and how vulnerable they are to outside attacks.

I had absolutely no idea who was behind the hate crimes, and although I was able to write one character off as being a red herring, the other four suspects had me mystified. Despite my many years of reading Nancy Drew novels, even I was surprised with the ending. I always love a book where I can't figure out the mystery before the main character, so I'm definitely impressed with Karen's ability to baffle the reader. At times, it almost felt as if Kat couldn't trust anyone, and I really felt her plight. Although she was an endearing character right from the start, I found that I loved her even more by the end of the novel and was really hoping that she'd find her happy ending. I think my only real problem with Kat is that she was continually getting herself into trouble by running off to investigate something without asking for help or telling anyone what she was doing. She was a bit too stubborn and often ended up unintentionally being a damsel in distress!

The romance between Kat and Luke obviously isn't the main focus of the book, and I'd have to say that it only takes up 10-20% of it. If you're not a fan of romance, you could always skim the particularly soppy sections, of which there are very few. I enjoyed watching Kat and Luke's relationship develop, and witnessing how they cared for each other. While there are a few passionate kisses here and there, the majority of their relationship is based on trust and wanting to look out for the other person. Luke feels a responsibility for Kat because she's living on his property, and this eventually becomes something more. And Kat finds herself discovering how much she wants a husband and family, realising how many admirable qualities Luke has. I was pleased that Karen hadn't gone down the route of creating the stereotypical Amish male - the kind that seems moody and brooding, doesn't show any interest in the female protagonist, and she ultimately has to break down the walls of communication to make him notice her. Luke was friendly and caring from the start of this novel, and eventually this turns into a romantic attraction, despite the differences in cultures. Basically, Karen shows that the Amish have human emotions too, and even they become attracted to people that they may think are "wrong for them".

Despite my slight annoyance with Kat, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As much as I adore love stories, a good romantic suspense can be incredibly satisfying. This book had my adrenaline pumping and was impossible to put down. If you're a fan of mysteries, thrillers or just the Amish, I'd definitely recommend checking out Karen Harper's novels. While this is technically the second book in a series, they can be read in any order. The Maplecreek Amish series is currently being reissued by Mira, and Karen has a new novel, Fall from Pride, due for publication in July 2011. 9/10

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