I have some bad news for readers of Ron Erskine’s mystery series that’s set in Pennsylvania’s Amish country: His new book, “Ghosts of Lost Dreams,” is the last of three parts.
“It was always meant to be a trilogy,” he said.
The novel features veterinarian Malcolm Cromarty confronting health problems in Amish dairy herds, facing deeply held healing rituals and remedies.
“The particular Amish group I chose to write about is really unique and helped me capture the ‘frozen in time’ concept,” Erskine said.
The highly conservative “white toppers,” distinguished by their white shirts, lack of bonnets and carriages with white tops, are also dealing with plans for a new highway that might result in their property being taken away due to eminent domain.
“That’s the real focus of the book — the loss of farm property, which has been underway for decades,” Erskine said.
Once again, Cromarty’s friend Chiara, a savvy insurance investigator, and young pal Devyn, who has an uncanny ability to communicate with animals, play key roles in the amateur investigation. Erskine inserts Devyn into a small farm run by a single mother and her 20-year-old daughter, Lily. A romance between Lily and Devyn soon develops and adds depth to the mystery.
As the vet attempts to determine the cause of the animals’ sickness, mayhem ensues in the form of a homicide that ultimately holds the key to solving the whole shebang.
Erskine has an intimate knowledge of Amish country and its people. He served as a farm veterinarian in the area when he first started his career.
“Malcolm, and some of the situations he is thrown into, parallels my experiences as a young vet. I always found the Amish to be superstitious,” he said.
After making a farm call, Erskine would rush to his truck to write down some of the things he encountered, saying to himself, “You are never going to believe this.”
He said much of his readership comes from farm owners and veterinarians.
“Vets love my books,” he said. “Malcolm is not a superhero. He’s just a normal veterinarian.”
Malcolm may be “normal,” but he has superb analytical skills that bring the solution to a dramatic conclusion. In addition, Devyn’s preternatural ability to “talk” to animals plays heavily in the complicated plot as he and his band of crows save the day in one dramatic scene.
Erskine begins each chapter with a quote from a 1912 veterinarian manual, which details outdated treatment methods that aren’t far removed from the white toppers’ animal sorcery. One treatment for simple mastitis calls for a “strong mercurial ointment” mixed with an extract of belladonna. It’s right out of the Addams Family.
Throughout his career as a private veterinarian and professor of veterinary medicine at Michigan State University, Erskine says science has changed dramatically.
“Today, we are so much more advanced in prevention. For example, we used to use a lot more antibiotics. That’s not the case today,” he said.
The author is thinking through what he might write next. One idea is to expand Devyn’s animal whispering into a novel. Another idea is to set a mystery at Allerton Park & Retreat Center outside of Monticello, Illinois. That book may fall more into the horror genre, akin to Stephen King’s “The Shining.”
He’s pleased he’s not contractually obligated to quickly write another book so he can take his time figuring out where he wants to go next.
“I have a hobby that’s paying me,” he said.
When he was a farm vet, Erskine had a lot of “windshield time” as he drove between farms. “Ghosts of Lost Dreams” shows he used that time to observe his natural surroundings, and he plays those musings out in his narrative.
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