His Guilt is the second book in the author’s Amish of Hart County series and, having enjoyed the first book, Her Secret, I looked forward to discovering in which direction Ms. Gray would take the series. We revisit Hart County, Kentucky, but move to Horse Cave, a town near Munfordville with a new cast of characters. The elements of suspense and romance have already been established for the series, but the author now explores a different and important theme – guilt. The novel stands well on its own and can be enjoyed without reading the first.
Two years after being accused and found innocent of a brutal assault against a young woman, Mark Fisher returns home to the Amish community at Horse Cave. Mr. Lehmann, a man who has stood as a father-figure for Mark, is ailing and encourages Mark to move back and help him at his nursery. During his first day on the job, Mark is puzzled by his co-worker’s smiling attitude toward the customers. Unaccustomed to such polite service, Mark questions her actions. Waneta Cain knows the story behind the nursery’s new employee and is both wary and afraid of Mark, even in the face of Mr. Lehmann’s assurances and Mark’s proven innocence. In spite of Mark’s rude question and his prickly attitude, Neeta answers him then avoids him. The work day is awkward for them both, as well as for the customers who visit the nursery. By the end of the day, word has spread throughout the community that Mark Fisher, the man accused of assault, is back in town.
In this many-layered story, guilt plays a consistent and central role. Despite the county sheriff’s findings that Mark is innocent, given no other suspect, the community cloaks Mark in guilt. When another assault occurs, Mark becomes the easy target for blame. Through his upbringing in a troubled home, Ms. Gray illustrates how his social and financial background colors the opinions of his neighbors. Through its characters, the story softly chides the Amish community for its very human tendency to judge unfairly, and reminds them, as well as us, to act with the compassion Jesus taught rather than cling to false perceptions based on fear. Taking another perspective, the author shows how easy it is to live up to – or down to – people’s expectations. If someone treats us as guilty, we may unconsciously behave to reinforce the impression. Again, a human failing, but one as important to face and overcome as guilt placed by others.
Ms. Gray does a wonderful job of weaving the theme of guilt and judgement through all the story events and tightly binding the plot together. Neeta’s commitment to her growing romance with Mark is tested again and again as each turn of events forces her to reassess her opinion of him and to struggle with the silence he uses to cope under stress. Mark must also deal with his younger brother’s bitterness as the shadows of the past linger over their relationship. A second love story used as a subplot illustrates how one partner’s sense of unworthiness and self-blame can be slowly overcome with a steady infusion of love and compassion. Several of the young adults in this story have been victims of child abuse and poor parenting, bringing to light issues within the Amish community usually unseen by outsiders.
I enjoyed the book and the author’s use of the small community to show how guilt – whether perceived or real – can affect life in significant ways. The love story is sweet and shows us in a Christian context how a couple works out a relationship where guilt is a strong element. Even though Ms. Gray tackles serious issues she handles them with a sensitive touch so that the book isn’t a difficult or emotional read; her style is polished and insightful and delivers a smooth, engaging story. This novel is less suspenseful than her other work, but if you like your romance sweet and enjoy a thoughtful perspective on compassion in action, I can definitely recommend His Guilt.