Shipshewana, Indiana, is defined by its surrounding Amish and Mennonite communities. Although the population doesn’t even reach the 600 mark, this quaint, quiet town generates about a half-million visitors per year who buy or sell at the Midwest’s largest flea market. With its old-fashioned charm and hometown feel, what better setting for a cozy mystery? Author Vannetta Chapman obviously asked the same question because MATERIAL WITNESS is the third novel in her Shipshewana Amish Mystery series.
EnglischerCallie Harper owns a quilt shop in the heart of Shipshewana. As the story opens, Mrs. Knepp, an elderly Amish quilt shop owner from down the street, is murdered in front of Callie’s store. The only witness is seven-year-old wheelchair-bound Aaron Byer, son of Callie’s Amish friend, Melinda. Once the police show up and begin their investigation, they determine that Mrs. Knepp was actually an innocent victim who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The killer’s real target is Callie. This shocking revelation is confirmed as soon as the police leave. Callie receives a call from a man demanding she give him the money that’s “his” or more people will start dying, including the young material witness. There’s only one problem: Callie has no idea what money he’s talking about. Could it have something to do with the unique storybook quilts she recently inherited from local Amish woman Mrs. Hochstetler upon her death a couple of weeks before?
"[MATERIAL WITNESS] has all the same elements as the previous books --- an entertaining and compelling mystery, warm and delightful characters, a charming setting --- but this one takes it up a notch."
Callie and her three Amish friends --- Deborah, Melinda and Esther --- join forces once again to solve the crime, with a little help from the Amish children, Callie’s dog Max, and Shane Black, the local police officer who is quickly finding a serious place in Callie’s heart.
I became a fan of Amish fiction upon reading FALLING TO PIECES and A PERFECT SQUARE, the first two books in this series, but MATERIAL WITNESS has claimed the spot as my favorite. It has all the same elements as the previous books --- an entertaining and compelling mystery, warm and delightful characters, a charming setting --- but this one takes it up a notch. The friendship between Callie, Deborah, Melinda and Esther is more deeply explored. I love how despite the differences in culture, there is a sincere affection and respect between the women.
In addition, the pacing of this story is a little quicker than the other two, with a bit more suspense, action and page-turning appeal, in terms of both the mystery and the character development. Something I personally enjoyed was the involvement of the children, especially Aaron, the sweet wheelchair-bound witness with Chicken Breast Disease, which is more common among the Amish. Several scenes are told from Aaron’s perspective, and this adds a refreshing dimension to the storyline.
For fans of Amish fiction and/or cozy mysteries, there’s a lot to love about this series. While each story stands alone, there are some references to previous events, so you may want to start at the beginning to get an idea of Callie’s history, particularly in regards to her relationships with Deborah and Shane.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from reading this series is that, despite the simple lifestyle of the Amish, their faith is anything but simple. Faith in God and adhering to their beliefs play an integral part of the story. I came away with a new appreciation for the Amish community and their emphasis on putting people over material things, which is something the world certainly can use more of today.
MATERIAL WITNESS ends in a satisfying way, yet I’m sad to leave these characters behind. But who knows? Maybe there will be more mysteries in Shipshewana for Callie and Deborah to solve. If not, that would be the greatest crime of all.
Reviewed by Lynda Lee Schab on October 18, 2012