Featured Reviews, VOLUME 1

FEATURED: Separate from the World by Paul Gaus [Vol. 1, #43]

“An Amish Murder Mystery?”

A Review of
Separate from the World.
by Paul L. Gaus.


By David Neuhouser.


Separate from the World:
An Ohio Amish Mystery.

Paul L. Gaus.

Paperback. Ohio University Press. 2008.
Buy now from: [ Doulos Christou Books $10 ] [ Amazon ]

Separate from the World - GausSeparate from the World is the sixth in a series of mysteries set in the Amish community of Holmes County, Ohio.  The author, Paul L. Gaus teaches chemistry at the College of Wooster in Ohio, and lives near many of Ohio’s Amish communities.  He is familiar with the Amish and sympathetic with their views.

The book begins with the apparent accidental death of an Amish man and the apparent suicide of a college girl.  These seemingly unrelated events are followed by more strange occurrences.  It seems impossible that there could be any connection between all of these incidents but of course there is and Gaus cleverly leads us to the solution.  The “detective” is Michael Brandon, a professor of history at the college.  Brandon is assisted (and sometimes hindered) by his friends, the sheriff and a local minister, as well as by his wife.

At the beginning Brandon is depressed by the grading he has to do at the end of the academic year and wonders if he should give up teaching after more than thirty years.  Then the death of the girl who was one of his students does not help.  At the same time an Amish man visits him and tells him that the apparent suicide of his brother was really murder. Of course, I will not tell you much more of the clever plot. I don’t want to spoil the joy of your matching your wits with Brandon in solving the mysteries.


The author shows real understanding of Amish culture and also of the culture of academe.  And, although he is sympathetic with both worlds, he shows the darker sides of each as well.  In the academic world, we read about student cheating, partying and studying; faculty and student protests against war and the police: and the pressures of presidential fund raising.  Town/gown problems are evident here as well. 

Amish beliefs and culture are portrayed sympathetically but the “English,” as the Amish refer to outsiders, are frustrated and sometimes angered by the non-resistance of the Amish.  When asked if they are not going to do anything to protect themselves, they answer that they are praying.  The Amish show patience and peace throughout their troubles.  They believe that suffering is God’s will for them and that they will grow through the process.

Following is a fragment of a conversation between the professor and the Amish man,

      “Humility is the …”

      “Yes, I know – the strongest virtue.”

      “No Professor.  The most beautiful virtue.”

The “English” are upset with what they believe are inconsistencies in the Amish use or refusal to use technology or science.  One of the problems in the book is that there is a split in the Amish congregation about whether or not to cooperate with a genetic study by college professors and students.  Scientists want to study the occurrence of genetic defects among the Amish because of the limited gene pool among them due to the fact that few outsiders marry Amish.  On the other hand the Amish believe that the “English” are also inconsistent.  The Amish bishop says to Brandon, “Answer this question for me, Professor.  We do not understand.  How can English be opposed to abortion but in favor of war?  Or how can English be opposed to war but in favor of abortion?  Are they not both killing?”

I have given just a few of the thought-provoking descriptions of college and Amish life contained in the book.  The reader can learn much about both cultures from this captivating and well-written mystery.

David L. Neuhouser is the Scholar in Residence at the Center for the Study of C. S. Lewis and Friends at Taylor University (Upland, Indiana).

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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