By Karen Harper
Amish lavender grower Ella Lantz has her life upset by the arrival of Alex Caldwell, a Wall Street whistle-blower under witness protection–and being hidden by her family. As Ella comes to trus, even love, a man so utterly worldly, she finds their relationship comes with a price. With Alex, she goes on the run from the men who want Alex silenced forever. Florida, New York City–with a price on their heads, the bodies pile up and they may not live to share their love.
The author recently took time out of her busy schedule to discuss FINDING MERCY with TheBigThrill:
Tell us a bit about your book.
FINDING MERCY is the third novel in the HOME VALLEY AMISH TRILOGY, although the books, including FALL FROM PRIDE and RETURN TO GRACE, can stand alone. Amish woman Ella Lantz’s life is turned upside down when her family takes in a worldly man, a corporate whistle-blower whose testimony threatens some powerful people. Worse, she falls for Alex Caldwell, alias “Amish” Andrew Lantz, and goes on the run with him to save his life. Ella finds their hiding places in Sarasota, Florida and New York City a far cry from the peace and quiet of her Ohio lavender fields, but it’s more of a shock that someone is trying to kill her too.
That sounds like a real contrast in settings. Is it difficult to make a rural, Amish area work for a thriller?
Actually not, because danger and bad guys are not what a reader would expect in such a lovely, “peaceful” setting. Since the Amish don’t use electricity or own phones or cars and don’t generally trust the police, it works well to get a dark setting and isolated heroine. The criminals who have cars and cell phones have a great advantage over their prey. Besides, those tall cornfields and huge lantern-lit barns can be terrifying to hide in.
Was it a challenge to have such different people fall in love?
It’s always a challenge to have the two main characters come from such different backgrounds, cultures and beliefs, who have to work together to survive. Either the Amish person has to become more worldly or the “English” person must adapt to strict Amish ways. There is no middle ground if there is to be a happy ending. If the Amish person marries worldly, they are shunned by their people. And the change in the other direction means giving up a lot of what the modern world considers the necessities of life. However, as Alex Caldwell finds out the hard way, the Amish life has much to offer.
There seems to be a real trend in the popularity of Amish novels today. Any thoughts on why this is true?
Many of the popular Amish novels are inspirations stories, which mine is not, although to write about the Amish does mean presenting their faith-based lives realistically. I think the more techno-crazy and stressful our world gets today, the horse-and-buggy world of the Amish intrigues readers. We have a curiosity about a people who can live so simply, who can (mostly) keep their large families together, who don’t divorce, who have young people who are not rebellious. (Actually, they give their teens a time for rebellion before they have to make a commitment—or not—to Amish life.) Then too, there is the inherent American nostalgia for the rural, agrarian past that a close view of Amish life style provides.
Of course, having the Amish take in a man being hidden under WITSEC (The Witness Protection Program) reminds some of the movie WITNESS. Are there any shades of that here?
As I recall the plot of WITNESS, Harrison Ford’s character was in Amish country to protect a child witness of a killing. My hero, Alex Caldwell, is a corporate whistle blower who has is American CEO and the Chinese as enemies who want him eliminated. Alex worked for a company that made satellites, and it was fascinating for me to research American and Chinese spy satellites. They are “Big Brother” in the sky. So despite the common link of fugitive-in-Amish-country, the scope of the movie and my story is quite different.
Back to the unusual setting for a minute: who knew that the Amish actually winter in Florida? Amish snowbirds?
I found that intriguing too. I live in South Florida in the winter and was surprised to see a small group of Amish nearby. Their central area is Pinecraft near Sarasota. No buggies there but three-wheeled bicycles to get around. A regularly scheduled charter bus takes them down and back from the Midwest for “the season.” Some have small homes there; some rent. There are two excellent Amish restaurants in Pinecraft. The Plain People swim in the Gulf in their regular clothes—san shoes. Of course, in the winter, it is mostly older people, including many retired farmers whose sons hold down the home front back in the snowy Midwest.
What are you working on after nine Amish suspense novels?
I’m about ready to begin a new romantic/suspense trilogy, not set among the Amish this time but in rural southern Ohio. This area has a mix of Appalachians and wealthy, educated people who love the area of lakes, hills and forests—instant tension between the Appalachians and second-home residents. I also write historical novels set in Tudor England, although I’m ‘going Victorian and Edwardian’ in my next book. MISTRESS OF MOURNING, my most recent, is a mystery probing three actually historical murders of royal princes. And talk about a contrast in settings! I just returned from a research trip to teeming London—worlds apart from my numerous rural trips to Ohio Amish country over the years.
“Harper, a master of suspense, keeps readers guessing about crime and love until the very end. Detailed description of the Amish community…add to the enjoyment of this thrilling tale.” ~BOOKLIST, starred review, on previous book in this trilogy, FALL FROM PRIDE.
“Haunting suspense, tender romance and an evocative look at the complexities of Amish life. DARK ANGEL is simply riveting!” ~Tess Gerritsen
This HOME VALLEY AMISH TRILOGY finale brings shades of the movie WITNESS to the page, in a pulse-pounding, man-and-woman-on-the-run adventure. You won’t be disappointed in the ride!” ~RT BOOK REVIEWS TOP PICK selection on FINDING MERCY
Karen Harper is the New York Times bestselling author of contemporary suspense and historical fiction. A former secondary and university (Ohio State) English instructor, she now writes full time. She is the winner of the Mary Higgins Clark award for her Amish suspense DARK ANGEL and has written eight other thrillers set in Amish country. Karen and her husband divide their time between Ohio and Florida.
To learn more about Karen, please visit her website.