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A Perfect Square
by Vannetta Chapman

Zondervan | ISBN: 0310330440

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A Perfect Square is book 2 in my Shipshewana Amish Mystery series. Readers return to this small town in northern Indiana, where an Amish girl has been found floating in a local pond. Reuben Fisher is in jail as the suspect and refuses to divulge any information, even to clear himself of a crime Deborah is certain he didn't commit. So, with her English friend, Callie---fellow sleuth and owner of Daisy's Quilt Shop---Deborah sets out to uncover the truth. The mystery deepens when an elderly man seeks Callie's help in finding his long-lost daughter, missing since the days of the 1965 Palm Sunday Tornadoes. An old man who has lost his past. A young man who may lose his future. Once again Deborah and Callie find themselves trying to piece together a crazy quilt of lives and events---one that can bring unexpected touches of God's grace and resolve the tragedy that has shaken this quiet Amish community.

Read an excerpt

Chapter 1
Shipshewana, Indiana
Late October

“Less than two weeks until the wedding.” Deborah Yoder glanced once at Esther, then focused again on the dirt lane, her horse Cinnamon, and guiding the buggy down the rutted path.

On both sides of them, fields of fall corn rose, golden and plump, ready for harvest. They shaded the lane so that the midmorning sun broke through in a slatted fashion, as if it were winking at them.

Joshua and Leah spoke in hushed tones from the backseat, caught up in some game that children play. It never failed to amaze Deborah how they managed to find amusement in the smallest things. Yesterday it had been twisting stalks of corn shucks into absurd figures.

When Esther didn’t comment, Deborah looked at her friend again. Esther’s hands clutched the casserole bowl firmly, but she managed a radiant smile.

Ya. Less than two weeks. One part of me wishes it were tomorrow. That I could wake up and we would be living our life together, as man and wife.”

“And the other part?”

“The other part agrees with Tobias. There’s still much to do before he moves into my home. We’re not ready, and as much as I’d like to wish the days away, I know it’s all a part of the season and something I won’t want to forget. Less than two weeks. I should be grateful for each day, as Tobias reminds me.”

Deborah smiled as she began circling the small pond at the far end of Tobias and his cousin Reuben’s place — actually it was their grossdaddi’s place, but they’d been farming it for the last several years.

“Tobias has become quite industrious since he asked you to marry him. He’s always been a hard worker, but in the last few months it’s as if he’s a man on a mission. He wants everything to be perfect.”

“I know. He’s working even more hours at the feed store, and he still needs to help with the harvest.” Esther’s hands worried over the top of the casserole dish. “That’s why I wanted to bring them dinner. I’m not sure they eat well with Reuben’s cooking.”

Deborah laughed out loud, causing both children to pop up and hang over the front seat. “I’ve no doubt they’ll be glad you made the chicken and potatoes. They don’t strike me as wunderbaar cooks. Reuben burned the kaffi the last few times I stopped by. I wouldn’t fuss over them too much though. I think the women in their family bring them dinners fairly often.”

“I spoke with Tobias’ mother Saturday when I saw her in town. No one was coming by tonight so — ” Esther reached out and clutched Deborah’s arm. “Could you stop the buggy? Just for a moment?”

Following her friend’s gaze, Deborah immediately spied the tall bunches of wildflowers growing on the pond’s southwestern side.

Black-eyed Susans swayed among autumn goldenrods, dipping and rising beside the blue water of the small pond in the late October morning. Nearly buried in switchgrass that was close to three-feet tall, Deborah was surprised they were able to see the cluster of wildflowers at all. If they hadn’t been riding in the buggy, they would have missed the beautiful sight, which looked to Deborah like colors from a patchwork quilt.

Esther’s fingers tightened their grasp on her arm. “Can we stop?”

“We don’t have to be at Daisy’s Quilt Shop for another hour. Let’s pick a few.”

“Callie will love them,” Esther agreed.

“And when they’re dried, you can keep the seeds for your garden.”

Deborah pulled the buggy to the side, noticing that Cinnamon was acting a bit nervous, tossing her head and dancing to the right of the road. “Whoa, girl.”

“Will she be okay?” Esther asked, even as she pulled small quilting scissors out of her sewing bag.

“I’m sure. I’ll stay here. You go and gather the flowers.”

“Later I’ll regret using sewing scissors for gardening.”

“Callie will have cleaning solution, and you’ll only snip a few.

You use those for thread, not cloth. It will be fine.”

“I want to go, Mamm.” Leah’s sweet little face peeped forward from the backseat toward her mother, Esther. She had recently turned three and had come out of her shell quite a bit over the last few months — perhaps because her mother was no longer so sad.

Perhaps because her mother was in lieb.

Deborah’s little Joshua wasn’t far behind her.

“Josh go,” he said, struggling to crawl out of the buggy.

Deborah studied her son. He’d recently turned eighteen months old, and some days she worried that he’d be the last baby she’d ever hold in her arms. “You? I thought you’d stay with me and Cinnamon.”

“Josh go,” he repeated stubbornly. He continued to reach past her, knocking the wool cap loose from his head in his attempt to climb out of the buggy and follow Leah. He was at the stage where he imitated Leah or Mary or his twin brothers every chance he got.

With a sigh, Deborah set him on the ground and tugged once on his cap before he darted away. Joshua smiled up at her, cap askew, pointed at the mare, and declared, “Ceemon.”

The horse shook her head again, rattling the harness.

“I’ll look after Cinnamon,” Deborah said as she followed them around the buggy and stood with her hand on the mare. “You two go with Esther, but stay close to her and come back as soon as she says. We’re going to see Miss Callie this morning.”

Esther allowed each child to clasp one of her hands as they walked toward the flowers by the water’s edge.

Deborah kept one eye on them as they wound their way through the tall grass, but another part of her mind was focusing on the mare. She ran one hand down her neck, whispering and stroking, attempting to calm her. Still, Cinnamon shook her harness and tried to pull away. Deborah ran a hand down the length of the mare’s leg, wondering if perhaps she had something lodged in one of her hooves. She’d seemed fine trotting down the lane.

“Easy, girl. What’s wrong?” Patting the mare’s neck, Deborah found that the horse was actually trembling. Sweat slicked her coat though the morning was cool.

Deborah’s own heart rate kicked up a notch as she responded to the mare’s anxiety.

Maybe she had missed something. Perhaps there was a snake nearby or an animal carcass in the weeds. Deborah was scanning the surrounding area looking for the cause of Cinnamon’s anxiety when she noticed where the dry grass was stamped down to the north. It looked as if someone had traveled the opposite direction of Esther and the children, though still heading toward the water, sometime earlier. The path that had been beaten down was wider than footsteps — smaller than a buggy.

Like something had been dragged.

The path extended well past the area where Deborah had stopped with the buggy . . .

She glanced back to where Esther still stooped among the flowers and the children played.

Yes, the path led to the opposite end of the pond. Deborah was surprised she hadn’t noticed it earlier, but she’d been focused on the flowers. It was hard to imagine that Tobias and Reuben had taken the time to come out here, unless they’d been fishing. But Tobias had been so busy working double shifts at the feed store and on the farm, which had left Reuben pulling extra weight in the fields.

She focused again on the scene, tried to find the piece she was missing.

Esther and the children stood beside the water, snipping flower stems.

A slight breeze stirred the water.

Geese crossed the blue autumn sky, heading north, their cry piercing the morning, then fading, leaving it quiet but not peaceful.

Cinnamon tossed her head one more time, nearly pulling the harness out of Deborah’s hand, when the morning’s silence was broken by Esther’s scream.

Letter To Readers

Featured AuthorWhen I first visited the small town of Shipshewana in northern Indiana, I was worried my welcome would be--cold. Some people don't like authors, and when that author is slowly killing off your citizens, things can get sticky. Imagine my relief when my hostess invited me in, poured that first cup of kaffi, and offered me some shoofly pie. That scene was repeated again and again in this town of 600. It reminded me of the southern hospitality we're known for in Texas, and I immediately felt at home.

The killing hasn't stopped in Shipshe, but now I feel bad about it. This small community of Amish and Englisch is the perfect place for a mystery series. I'm so glad that I've had the chance to get to know the folks--and to wander the countryside. If you haven't been there and you're ever in Chicago, Indianapolis, or Fort Wayne, do yourself a favor and take a side trip. But be careful--things aren't always as they appear. (Ha ha ha.)

My current release, A Perfect Square, begins with the anticipation of a wedding, which is a joyous occasion in any community. In this small Amish town, the crops are about to be harvested and then the celebrations will begin, until Deborah and Esther stumble upon a murdered Amish girl floating in a local pond. I was teaching high school when I wrote the first draft of this book, and I have to wonder if that's why I killed off a teenager. Just kidding! I don't believe I've personally read or written a story where I've grown so close to the deceased. Soon Reuben Fisher is in jail as the suspect. You would think he'd speak up to clear his name, but the Amish way isn't our way, and the mind of a man ... who can understand that? Soon our sleuths, Deborah and her Englisch friend, Callie---owner of Daisy's Quilt Shop---set out to uncover the truth. Some truths don't want to be revealed though. And then Callie is distracted by an old man who has one foot in the distant past.

He seeks Callie's help in finding his long-lost daughter. She has been missing since the days of the 1965 Palm Sunday Tornadoes. (I was fascinated by the display of these tornadoes when I visited Shipshe--you can see them in the historical center in downtown Shipshe.) Callie realizes this is a fool's mission. A girl who has been missing nearly 50 years? Impossible.

An old man who is lost in his past. A young man who may lose his future. Once again Deborah and Callie find themselves trying to piece together a crazy quilt of lives and events. In the process, they will find unexpected touches of God's grace. The question is, can they help to resolve the tragedy that has shaken this quiet Amish community?

I hope you'll find out. My stories have repeatedly been dubbed "Not your typical Amish fiction." I'm going to take that as a compliment. I found Amish folk to be just that--good honest folk. Not perfect. Not saintly. Pretty much like you and me--doing the best they can, and occasionally having to deal with the dark side of life. But as long as you have friends and faith to help you through? Well then it usually works out in the end.

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