****Fateful Mornings

police car

photo: Highway Patrol Images, creative commons license

By Tom Bouman – Henry Farrell is the lone policeman who patrols the back roads of Wild Thyme township in rural northeastern Pennsylvania.

Mostly his job isn’t too demanding. He can park his vehicle and spend time enjoying the local lakes and forests without anyone much missing him. He can even take on an illegal after-hours job. He helps dismantle old barns and salvage the wood for new barns designed by his best friend, word-working genius Ed Brennan.

In Bouman’s fine descriptions of Henry’s world, you can just about smell the trees and ponds along with Henry, who narrates most chapters. In Henry and several other principal characters in this rural noir novel, Bouman has created well-rounded, complex individuals. Henry also plays fiddle in a roots music trio, for example.

These bucolic images coexist uneasily alongside the dirty business of hydraulic fracking and the even dirtier practice of drug dealing, which are ravaging the natural and human resources of Wild Thyme. As a result, law enforcement in the township is about to face some serious challenges. At first, it’s an uptick in burglaries and motor vehicle accidents, which Henry attributes to the rise in drug abuse.

But then a young woman goes missing. Penny Pellings is a sometimes heroin user who lives in a trailer with her boyfriend. The pair has lost custody of their infant daughter. Though they want her back, they aren’t on a road that can lead to that outcome.

The search for Penny Pellings requires the casting of a rather wide net, which takes Henry out of his jurisdiction. He has a thoughtful, amiable demeanor that helps him interact well with nearby departments that have many more resources than he does in Wild Thyme. So many crime novels focus on the turf battles and stonewalling between police agencies, it’s refreshing to see real cooperation.

Investigating Penny’s fate is an almost geological endeavor. Each layer excavated reveals another, with its own mysteries. In the end, the resolution of her story seems almost secondary to the 360-degree picture of the community of Wild Thyme that the author has created.

Bouman won an Edgar Award in 2015 for his first novel, Dry Bones in the Valley, also featuring Henry Farrell.

A longer version of this review appeared recently on CrimeFictionLover.com.

The Pennsylvania Dutch Experience

Landis Valley tinshop

Landis Valley tinshop (photo: Vicki Weisfeld)

How often have I passed the signs for Landis Valley Village and paid them no mind? Recently, with kids in tow, a group of us finally made a visit. The Village was a little gem, perfect for a two-hour stopover in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. We had cheese, nuts, and fruit with us, and with water from the LVV gift shop, we put one of their picnic tables to good use too.

In the heart of Amish country, the Village (and Museum, which we did not visit) focuses instead on the Pennsylvania Dutch heritage of the region and began. It started with a farm owned by two brothers and their collection of Pennsylvania Dutch artifacts, gradually adding other historical buildings. These include a schoolhouse, blacksmith’s forge, tin shop, tavern (natch!), among others, many of which are arranged around a shady central square. It was perfect for strolling and letting the kids run off some energy, even on the 90-degree day we were there. Horse-drawn wagons are another option for touring the acreage. Snow-white horses are in the field, chickens in their coops.

Depending on the day, costumed interpreters are available to describe how a particular building was used. The day we were there, we talked to a tavern-keeper, a blacksmith who was full of stories and working at his forge in front of us, a tinsmith who had a terrific backstory, and a young man supervising a private home. The kids loved it!

One of the activities of the Village and farm museum is a Heirloom Seed Project, which has been under way for three decades. Find out more about the seeds available, the many special events and exhibits at LVV, and other details at www.LandisValleyMuseum.org.

Landis Valley, horse-drawn wagon

photo: Vicki Weisfeld

Your Travel Circles

I provide this information to help you make the most of your trips to “destination cities” by also seeing attractions in a reasonable driving distance. I’ve had too many business trips when I never got out of the meeting hotel!

  • If you’re visiting Harrisburg, Lancaster County is less than an hour (45 miles) away.
  • If you’re visiting Philadelphia, Lancaster County is only 90 minutes (64 miles) away.