The latest Amish novel from author Vannetta Chapman is Who the Bishop Knows (Harvest House), the third in her Amish Bishop Mysteries. With a murderer on the loose and members of his community being threatened, can Amish bishop Henry Lapp solve a crime he didn’t witness? In this interview, Vannetta talks about the challenges of creating suspense in an Amish setting, the inspiration behind the mystery series, and what makes Bishop Lapp so special…
An Amish mystery series is such an intriguing idea. What are the challenges of creating a suspenseful plot and incorporating that into an Amish setting?
Definitely it is a challenge to balance the gentle, pastoral Amish setting that we all think of when we think of Amish with the gritty scene of a murder investigation. I think the key is to allow for problems that the rest of the world faces, but to emphasize that the Amish response to those problems is a bit different—gentler, calmer, more forgiving. Of course, in this instance, there’s still a killer to be caught.
What was the inspiration behind the Amish Bishop Mysteries?
As with many of my novels, it all began with a small news story. This one was about accidental savants—the skills they have and the challenges they face. Rather than being born with savant abilities, these people suffered some sort of injury—usually a traumatic brain injury—that resulted in their having unusual abilities.
I spoke to an Amish gentleman a few years ago who was a wonderful baseball pitcher and was scouted by a pro baseball team. Those two things came together in my mind and the character of Bishop Henry Lapp was born. Henry’s special ability is that he is able to draw anything that he sees.
He doesn’t possess a photographic memory—which scientists say is an impossibility—but his hand can draw anything that his subconscious remembers. And his subconscious remembers everything. For Henry, this is both a blessing and a curse.
What kind of research did you do for this series?
In addition to learning about savants, I visited the small Amish community in Monte Vista, Colorado, where the book takes place. It’s a very different setting from what you might find in Pennsylvania or Ohio or Indiana. And the natural beauty of the area—from the migration of the cranes to the Great Sand Dunes National Park to Colorado’s oldest rodeo—provided a fun backdrop to tell my story against.
But the Amish life is much the same in spite of the fact that these Colorado Amish live in a high desert valley and use solar energy. There’s still the focus on faith and community and hard work.
Would you tell us a little more about Bishop Lapp and what makes him special?
Readers’ response to Henry has really touched my heart. I think we all are drawn to a grandfather type character. Henry isn’t perfect by any means—the fact that he was “chosen” to be a bishop at first puzzled him as much as anyone, especially given his savant abilities which many people are uncomfortable with.
However, Henry’s real gift is his compassion for people. He’s more than just a bishop or a sleuth—he’s a dear friend to folks within his Amish community, and he cares about the Englisch community as well. I guess Henry is everything that I remember and love about my own grandfather—kind, gentle, fun, wise, and a little mischievous.
Without revealing too much, can you tell us about what Henry faces in Who the Bishop Knows?
In the first two books of this series—What the Bishop Saw, and When the Bishop Needs an Alibi—Henry learns to embrace his unusual gift. He finally accepts that God has a reason for making him exactly how he is, and that God will use this strange gift for good things.
But in Who the Bishop Knows, Henry doesn’t see anything. He doesn’t witness the murder, he’s observed no clues, he wasn’t even present when the murder occurred.
Instead of relying on his abilities, Henry turns to what might be an even more important gift—his ability to understand people. If he can focus on who he knows, not what he knows, he might be able to save those in his community from danger. Henry has to trust that God is still in control of the situation around them, and that even from evil, He can bring good.
Visit Vannetta Chapman’s author page here: https://www.familyfiction.com/authors/vannetta-chapman
Who the Bishop Knows
Amish Bishop Mysteries #3